Monday, May 30, 2011

Not Your Mama's Tater Tot Casserole

I’m not really big into casseroles and stuff like that. Perhaps it’s because my mother never really made them when we were growing up, so I’m more accustomed to real food… However, I always liked the idea of tater tot casserole. My only problem with the concept, though, is that it always seemed like a glorified Thanksgiving dinner side. Don’t get me wrong, I love green bean casserole! But, I wouldn’t want to make an entire meal of it… I don’t think.
So, this idea came about because I just couldn’t get past the glorified green bean casserole idea. I know some people use mixed vegetables instead of the green beans, but I’m not a fan of cooked carrots so that doesn’t really work for me. Because I live in Wisconsin, there HAS to be plenty of cheese in my casserole! So, I started with some cheddar cheese soup. And, since we’re using tater tots on top of the dish, I thought the cream of potato soup would be a nice alternative. What I ended up with is a tater tot casserole that’s a little bit different but still tastes wonderful!
As for the ground sirloin and ground chicken breast mixture, I’ve been doing that a lot lately as I’m becoming more and more health conscious. You can’t even taste the difference after it’s cooked, but I feel better because I know the chicken breast is very lean. Not to mention, it’s a great way to stretch your dollar, and who couldn’t use a little of that nowadays! Where I live, fresh chicken breasts go on sale at least once every month, for $2.99 (or less) per pound. Lean hamburger hardly ever goes on sale for that cheap… So, to save money and still be healthy, I combine the two, making a lean meat mixture that doesn’t taste “off.”

Printable Recipe

1 lb. ground sirloin
1 lb. ground chicken breast
2 cloves garlic, minced
Sea salt & Freshly ground black pepper
1 (10¾ oz.) can cheddar cheese soup
2 (10¾ oz.) cans cream of potato soup
Splash of milk
2 (15 oz.) cans peas with pearl onions
2 c. shredded Colby jack cheese
1 (32 oz.) bag tater tots

Preheat the oven to 350°.
In a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, combine the ground sirloin and ground chicken breast, stirring and breaking up the pieces to combine. Brown the combined meat over medium heat until thoroughly cooked through. (Note: When using leaner meats like ground chicken or turkey breast and/or ground sirloin, it is not necessary to drain and rinse the meat as it is already quite lean. You’ll know that the meat is cooked through when nearly all of the liquid in the bottom of the pan has cooked off.) During the last minute or so of cooking, add the minced garlic and stir to combine; let the garlic cook in the mixture, stirring frequently, for a minute or two. Sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground black pepper over the meat when it is done cooking and stir to combine; remove from the heat.
Drain the peas with pearl onions in a colander to drain off all of the liquid. In the same pan as the cooked ground meat, stir in the cheddar cheese and cream of potato soups. To thin out the mixture a little bit, if needed, add a little bit of milk. (You don’t want the mixture to be really soupy, because it’s going to cook and thin out a little more anyways.) Fold the peas with pearl onions into the mixture and pour into an 11 x 8-inch baking dish (2 quarts). Using a spatula, even out the mixture, and then sprinkle the top with 1 cup of the shredded cheese; arrange the tater tots on top of the cheese-covered mixture and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, until the meat and vegetable mixture is heated through and the tater tots are golden brown. Remove the casserole from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining cheese, return to the oven and bake an additional 5 - 10 minutes, or until the cheese on top is melted. Serve hot.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lobster Roll-Style Crab Salad Sandwiches

I got the idea for this recipe while researching New England lobster rolls for an upcoming dinner. Like most people, I can’t afford to keep lobster, or real crabmeat for that matter, in my freezer, so I generally suffice with imitation crabmeat, especially when it goes on sale at the grocery store. I love using the imitation crabmeat on lettuce salads and in wraps, but had never prepared it like this before. I came across this recipe for the crab salad and it sounded intriguing, and not cloying like a lot of them seem to be. I changed a few things, based on what I had on hand and my own personal tastes, but I think this was a really good base recipe!
The next part was the bread… Of course, you can serve this on croissants and it will taste delicious! But, because I had lobster rolls on the brain, and leftover potato bread from roasted vegetable paninis, I thought it would be a really yummy variation on this particular classic. It was delicious!! If you have the New England style hot dog buns, feel free to use those instead, and prepare them just as you would for lobster rolls!
What I really enjoyed the most was how light and refreshing the crab salad was, and in combination with the lightly buttered and toasted bread, it was a wonderful combination. And what’s even better is that this is a great way to dress up the imitation crabmeat and make it taste a little more gourmet. Of course, if you have access to and can afford fresh crabmeat, I would highly encourage you to use that! But, most importantly, I want to emphasize that good food can be accessible to anyone, even if you don’t have a lot of money. For the most part, the ingredients in this recipe are all things that I always have on hand, so it was a cinch to put this together!

Printable Recipe

1 (1½ lb.) pkg. imitation crabmeat
¼ c. Miracle Whip
½ c. mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. dried green onions
1 Tbsp. dried minced onions
1 Tbsp. finely chopped onions
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 tsp. prepared horseradish
3 tsp. fresh parsley, minced
Potato Bread, toasted on one side or croissants

Break the crab into bite-sized pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Set aside
Combine the Miracle Whip, mayonnaise, onions, lemon juice, horseradish, and two tablespoons of parsley in a small mixing bowl; mix well. Pour the mayonnaise mixture over the crabmeat and gently fold to combine everything. (The mixture isn’t going to be mayonnaise laden, but will have more than enough.)
To toast the bread, spread butter on one side of each slice of bread. Toast in a skillet, as you would for toasted cheese sandwiches, and sandwich the crabmeat mixture between the untoasted sides of the breads, sprinkle with the remaining parsley, and serve.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spinach Salad with Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing

I love spinach salads, especially with light and refreshing dressings. One of the first spinach salads I had ever made was one with all kinds of fruit - strawberries, blueberries, mandarin oranges, kiwi, fresh pineapple, etc. - and then drizzled with fresh orange juice, which I still love. But, especially with summer coming now, I also like to have salads as a meal. Here in Wisconsin, it gets so humid, and I can hardly stand to eat anything really heavy. So, salads are a great dinner alternative!
This salad is kind of like one that I make at my work, but a little bit different. I definitely used some of the same ideas, but then made it my own. I especially like to add chicken or turkey breast to my salads (or the imitation crabmeat that always goes on sale), but I don’t ever buy the precooked and packaged stuff. Especially when doing it yourself is so easy and so much better for you! If you are making chicken for dinner, throw a couple of extra chicken pieces in with the others and then you can use the leftovers for salads and such. If you’re not already preparing it, throw a couple chicken breasts in a saucepan with some water or chicken broth and boil until the chicken is cooked through. Easy peasy! And you get the added benefit of knowing what’s really in your cooked chicken, as opposed to the packaged varieties which contain a lot of chemicals and preservatives.
For the dressing, I had wanted something that was a little less oil & vinegary than the poppy seed dressing I’ve made before, but wanted to keep the poppy seed dressing aspect of it because it goes so well with fruit. I found this recipe while searching for what I wanted, and it turned out to be the perfect accompaniment. If you use less mayonnaise the dressing will be a little thinner, but I like the way the thicker dressing adheres to the spinach leaves. Of course, you can always buy the packaged dressing instead, if you prefer!

Printable Recipe

2 large handfuls baby spinach leaves
⅛ small red onion, sliced
1 chicken breast, cooked and cut into bite-size pieces
8 strawberries, sliced
½ c. blueberries
3 Tbsp. sliced almonds
Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing, recipe follows

Arrange the spinach leaves on two large plates. Evenly distribute the sliced red onion, chicken breast pieces, sliced strawberries, blueberries, and sliced almonds between the two plates, arranging everything on top of the spinach. Drizzle with the creamy poppy seed dressing. Makes 2 large salads

Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing:
1 - 1½ c. mayonnaise
½ c. Half & Half
¼ c. white wine or champagne vinegar
½ c. white sugar
2 Tbsp. poppy seeds

Stir the mayonnaise, Half & Half, vinegar, sugar, and poppy seeds together until the sugar has dissolved.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mushroom Swiss Burgers

You probably remember, last week I made some crazy awesome Chipotle Bacon Cheeseburgers… Well, the weather is warming up here in Wisconsin, so it’s grilling weather and I have another crazy awesome burger for your viewing pleasure and taste bud enjoyment! While I whole-heartedly believe that nothing is better than a burger smothered and covered in bacon and cheese, I have to say that this one comes in a very delicious second place for me. Perhaps I should add some bacon to it… ;-)
This recipe came about because I was telling my sister Chrissy about my other burger, and she told me that she’s been craving a Hardee’s Mushroom and Swiss Burger like crazy. She asked if I could find a recipe for it, and so it began! We made some more of my Chipotle Bacon Cheeseburgers and we made some of these, which we altered slightly from the original recipe. (Imagine that! :-P) And, of course, Hardee’s doesn’t serve their burgers on ciabatta rolls, but they’re so good and hold up to the burger and toppings so well that we couldn’t resist. If you’ve never had ciabatta bread, I strongly urge you to find some or make some… It’s this deliciously chewy bread that is just so yummy I can’t even describe its awesomeness. I’m lucky enough to live near a fairly large city where I can find stuff like this – one of my local grocery stores not only carries ciabatta bread, but ciabatta rolls as well. They bake their bread fresh every single day, multiple times during the day, and you can buy the rolls in packages of two or more and they only cost about a dollar for each roll. You can even call them a couple of hours in advance and they will bake them fresh for you before you get there! They really are great for every kind of sandwich, and I like them because they hold up to whatever you throw on them, including a ginormous ½ pound hamburger patty. I think, soon, I might try making some paninis with them… Or a caprese sandwich!
Back to the burgers, though! It’s been a long time since I’ve had one of the Hardee’s varieties, so I can’t attest to whether or not they taste like them, but I CAN tell you that they were extremely delicious! The mushroom sauce had a really wonderful flavor; we liked it so much that we ate the leftover sauce on its own, practically licking the pan. That’s how you know something is good! ;-)

Printable Recipe

2 ciabatta rolls
1 Tbsp. butter
1 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
2 (4 oz.) cans sliced mushrooms
1 (10½ oz.) can Golden Mushroom soup
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. beef bouillon granules
16 oz. ground beef (85% lean)
2 green lettuce leaves
4 slices Swiss cheese

Prepare a gas or charcoal grill to medium heat. Slice the ciabatta rolls in half, horizontally, to make buns for the burgers.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add the onions. Sauté the onions over medium heat, stirring often, until onions are translucent and cooked through; add the minced garlic during the last minute of cooking and continue sautéing one minute more, just until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the canned mushrooms and allow to heat through. Add the Golden Mushroom soup, Worcestershire sauce, and beef bouillon granules and stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and allow the mushroom sauce to simmer and thicken.
Prepare the ground beef into 8 ounce patties, being sure to make them fairly large in diameter so that they will cover the entire ciabatta roll; make a small indent in the middle of each burger before placing on the grill. Sprinkle the patties with a little bit of salt, pepper, and seasoning salt just before placing on the grill and cook to desired doneness. Just before removing the burgers from the grill, place two slices of Swiss cheese on top of each hamburger patty and place the ciabatta rolls on the grill, cut sides down, to toast slightly.
Arrange the lettuce on top of the bottom pieces of the ciabatta rolls. Lay the cheese-covered hamburger patty on top of the lettuce leaf, spooning the mushroom mixture over the top of the burger, and cover with the top of the roll. Yield: 2 large cheeseburgers

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chicken Marsala

Wow, have things been hectic around here lately! My mom is on her last days of a cruise to Italy, so I've been helping my sister and brother-in-law by watching the boys so that they can do some of the things they need to do. Which is great, because I love my nephews dearly!! Also, really exciting, is that I started my new chefy job on Monday! I'm really enjoying my job AND all of my new coworkers! I had worked as a CNA for 6 years, and I can't even tell you how much catty high-school drama nonsense goes on... It's more than a little refreshing to work with people who are mature and actually act like the adults they are supposed to be, and it's still fun to work with them! I actually look forward to getting out of bed at 7:00 every morning for work!! And, since cooking is what I'm most passionate about, I'm glad to finally be doing something, and be given the opportunity to do something, that I really love. The coworkers just make it that much more enjoyable!

But, anyways... Enough of that junk...

So, there has been a recent tragedy in my sister's neighborhood, and I've been watching my nephews a lot more lately. My sister and brother-in-law are wonderful people, and I really don't mind watching my nephews at all! But, because things have been a little hectic and stressful, I've been trying to cook some nice meals for them, to help alleviate some of that. Yesterday, my nephews picked the meal, which was "Pigs in a Blanket" (for which they thought ketchup was an acceptable vegetable side dish) and today I decided it might be fun to make homemade pizzas with them. It turned out really neat, and my nephews liked being able to help roll out the dough and put the toppings on their own pizzas.
But, the other day, when my sister and brother-in-law were attending the funeral of a beloved neighbor and/or doing something with the school (they're both teachers), I wanted to make a nice dinner for them to come home to. I took the boys swimming and then out to McDonald's, but mommy and daddy got a special meal... Chicken Marsala!
I had gotten the inkling to make it after sampling a small piece a friend had ordered when we went out to dinner one night, and so I scoured the internet for what I thought it should be. I used Tyler Florence's recipe as my starting point, and then made some modifications to make it more like what I wanted. One of the things I thought was important was that it needed more sauce, and the sauce needed to be a little thicker than the original recipe called for. So, I doubled the Marsala sauce part of the recipe, and then also made a few slight changes elsewhere in the recipe. I served it like they had at the restaurant, with roasted asparagus and smashed potatoes, and it turned out wonderfully!

Printable Recipe

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 qt. Half & Half
¼ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
¼ tsp. seasoning salt
1 tsp. dried oregano, crushed
1 c. + 1 tsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. garlic powder
¼ c. extra-virgin olive oil
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
16 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. flour
1 c. sweet Marsala wine
1 c. chicken stock
¼ c. chopped flat-leaf parsley

Put the 1 cup of flour in a pie pan or other shallow dish and season with the garlic powder; mix with a fork to distribute evenly. Put the chicken breasts on a cutting board and trim off the skinnier ends, lay a piece of plastic wrap over them; pound with a flat meat mallet, until they are about ½-inch thick. Soak the flattened chicken breasts in a covered container filled with the Half & Half for approximately 30 minutes.
Heat half of the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. While the oil is heating, season the chicken breasts with pepper, seasoning salt, and dried oregano; dredge both sides of the chicken in the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess. When the oil is hot, gently place the chicken into the pan and fry for 5 minutes on each side until golden, turning once – do this in batches if the pieces don't fit comfortably in the pan. Remove the chicken to a large platter in a single layer and cover them with foil to keep warm.
Add 4 tablespoons of butter to the skillet and allow it to melt; add the mushrooms and sauté until they are nicely browned and their moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of flour over the mushrooms and stir to coat well. Pour the Marsala in the pan and boil down for a few seconds to cook out the alcohol. Add the chicken stock and simmer for a minute to reduce the sauce slightly. Stir in the remaining butter; simmer gently for 1 minute to heat through. Remove the chicken to serving plates and pour the mushrooms and sauce over the top, garnish with chopped parsley before serving. Makes 4 servings

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Triple Berry Bruschetta

This is another one of those recipes where, when I read the title, I thought it was going to be something and then, when I saw the recipe, it was A LOT different than what I had pictured in my head. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I hear berries, I traditionally think of dessert (unless it’s in a salsa for fish or something). When I first heard the name of the recipe, Berry Bruschetta, dessert is exactly what came to my mind! So, when I read the recipe and it was not really so much a desserty kind of thing, I was a little sad… It was really not very much like a dessert at all, especially with a French baguette as the Bruschetta part! Ugh.
So, I headed to the store to get all of the stuff I wanted for my own “Berry Bruschetta.” I had planned to do strawberries, but hadn’t thought much farther than that until I saw the blackberries and blueberries on sale. Then, those HAD to go in, too! I didn’t want the dessert to be real heavy or anything like that, so kept it quite simple… I chopped up the berries and then macerated them in the powdered sugar for a little bit. And, because I love wine, I threw a little bit of that in there too! How can you go wrong with a little bit of sweet, sparkly Moscato goodness?! And, for the bread, I wanted something that definitely could not have any hint of savory aspect whatsoever. Because I didn’t plan on making any bread, which you could very easily do and substitute, I just picked up a package of the already baked and sliced loaf cake from the bakery department at my local market. This Berry Bruschetta was quite divine, I must say!

Printable Recipe

16 oz. fresh strawberries, diced
12 oz. fresh blackberries, halved
11 oz. fresh blueberries, halved
2 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
2 Tbsp. Moscato d’Asti (recommend Luccio or Cupcake brand)
1 - 1½ Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
1 (16 oz.) pkg. sliced lemon loaf cake
Almond oil, optional
Sliced almonds

Combine the fruit in a medium bowl and sprinkle with the confectioners’ sugar; mix gently and allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes. After allowing the fruit to macerate for at least 30 minutes, stir the Moscato and fresh mint into the fruit mixture.
Preheat the broiler in the oven.
Place the cake slices on a large heavy baking sheet and toast under the broiler for 7 to 10 minutes until the slices turn golden brown, turning once so that the sides brown evenly. Serve the fruit mixture on top of the browned loaf cake; drizzle with a small amount of almond oil, if desired, and sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pineapple Sorbet and My First Blog Award!

I got the idea for this sorbet while standing at my kitchen sink one day, putting the spoiled pineapple that I wasn’t able to eat down the garbage disposal. I live by myself, so it can be difficult to eat so much food in a short period of time…
My friend Steph and I had been talking just before I had the epiphany about this sorbet, and had been discussing how great pineapple is, especially with chocolate. And is there really a better way to preserve fresh pineapple than to put it to use like this?! I think not!
I had done a search on the internet for pineapple sorbet, and even read the recipes in the manual that came with my ice cream maker, but when I tried the most common recipe I found myself a little disappointed with the results. The majority of those recipes called for a simple syrup made of sugar and water and then mixing lemon juice into the watered down pineapple mixture. Blah… It just didn’t taste right. So, I made my way back to the grocery store for another fresh pineapple and some pineapple juice, to try out my new idea! I figured, if you’d normally add a sugar syrup to pureed pineapple, then it would probably not be much different to use juice instead. Texturally, it came out just the same as the other, but it tasted so much better, and had pure pineapple flavor! I made some chocolate pineapple garnishes to go with my sorbet, but feel free to use any chocolate you’d like with yours. Like a drizzle of chocolate syrup... YUM!!

Printable Recipe

4 c. fresh pineapple chunks, pureed
1 c. pineapple juice

Place the pineapple juice in a small saucepan and heat just to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes; cool. Combine with the pureed pineapple. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. (You don’t want the sorbet completely hardened, but enough that it will hold its shape when formed.) Feel free to serve garnished with plenty of chocolate, if you’d like!

Now onto some blog awards… I would like to thank Kelly at Eat Yourself Skinny for this Versatile Blogger Award! This is my first blog award, so I’m especially excited about it!! Please, go check out her blog, if you haven’t already, and check out her yummy food!

As I accept this award I must first note the rules... (This goes for all who receive this award as well.) You must thank the person who awarded you by linking back to their post; you have to say 7 things about yourself (let's assume they should be interesting); and, last but certainly not least, you have to pass the award down to 15 other new or newly discovered by me blogs.
So, here we go!
1. I LOVE to read, and my favorite book of all time is Pride and Prejudice.
2. I could and have watched the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (with Colin Firth) over and over again. And it’s approximately 5 hours long! In my opinion, this is a far superior version of the movie, as it remains as true to the book as possible…
3. I am almost always disappointed in movies when I’ve read the books first. People WILL sit through a movie that’s a few hours long, if it’s good!
4. I am terrified of dying a horrific death. As a result, I don’t find roller coasters and spinning rides altogether enjoyable.
5. I LOVE sushi!! And, since I promised, I will be making it sometime this month!
6. I have an emphatic love affair with all things food related. I live in an apartment and have adequate kitchen storage for any normal person… But, for me, it’s not nearly enough. I have kitchen stuff stored in two other closets throughout my apartment!
7. I recently acquired an enameled red cast iron Dutch oven, which I have wanted for forever! I’ve lovingly named her Lucy, after my favorite redhead (Lucille Ball)… I haven’t gotten to make anything in it yet, but the first thing I am going to make (and blog about) is Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon! :-)

And for my 15 fellow foodie bloggers whom I think deserve this award…

Kevin - Closet Cooking
Chef Dennis - More Than A Mount Full
Becca - A Fox In The Kitchen
Marc - Grill Adventures By BroadcastMarc
Mel - Cooking with Mel
Amber - Enjoy Cupcakes
Jamie - My Baking Addiction
Todd & Diane - White On Rice Couple
Jourdan - Cuit Sans Four
Dee - Deelicious Sweets
Kim - Liv Life
Celeste - Sugar & Spice by Celeste
Laurie - The Baking Bookworm
Lauren - L-Mo Cooks and Reads
Josie - Daydreamer Desserts

Congrats, foodie friends! Thank you for all of the inspiration and encouragement - you deserve this award!! Now, go and spread the love! :-)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chipotle Bacon Cheeseburger

I got the idea for this recipe when I started craving the cheeseburger I had when I visited New York many months ago. One of the restaurants that I went to, Cosimo’s, only had one burger on their menu, and it was something very similar to this. It was really very good, and I’ve thought about it several times since then. Finally, I decided that there was no reason I couldn’t make it myself!
The burger that I had at Cosimo’s had a different sauce, which I can’t even remember, and had onions on it. Since I had some leftover chipotle crema, from when I made fish tacos, I decided to use that on my burger instead of trying to remember and concoct a mayonnaise similar to the one they used. And I forgot about the caramelized onions until after my burger was almost gone, so that didn’t make it on my sandwich this time. It didn’t matter, though, because this burger was so good, I didn’t even miss them! In fact, I think that if I had put the onions on, it might’ve been a little too much… The bacon was superb, as always, and the chipotle crema gave it just the right amount of kick and added flavor. As for seasonings, I’m really a purist when it comes to seasoning the actual burger - salt, pepper, and seasoning salt right before placing on the grill.
I had a delightful grilled vegetable medley with the cheeseburger at the restaurant, but I served my burgers tonight with some homemade French fries. My mom had a large crinkle cutter in her kitchen utensils drawer that she never used, so she said I could have it. Ever since then, I’ve been crinkle cutting everything! And, since homemade fries taste so much better than the cardboard junk you buy from the freezer section at the grocery store, I couldn’t resist. It turned out to be a wonderfully tasty dinner!

Printable Recipe

2 ciabatta rolls
16 oz. ground beef (85% lean)
1 (3 oz.) jar real bacon bits, divided in half (recommend Hormel)
4 slices Provolone cheese
2 green lettuce leaves
Chipotle Crema, recipe follows

Prepare a gas or charcoal grill to medium heat. Slice the ciabatta rolls in half, horizontally, to make a bun for the burger.
Prepare the ground beef into 8 ounce patties, being sure to make them fairly large in diameter so that they will cover the entire ciabatta roll; sprinkle the patties with a little bit of salt, pepper, and seasoning salt just before placing on the grill. Grill the hamburgers to desired doneness. When the burgers are almost done cooking, mound one half of the bacon bits on top and spread out to cover the entire burger. Just before removing the burgers from the grill, place two slices of Provolone cheese on top of each burger, covering the bacon bits. When the cheese is slightly melted, press the remaining bacon bits on top.
Arrange the lettuce on top of the bottom piece of the ciabatta roll and spread the chipotle crema on the top piece of the roll. Lay the bacon- and cheese-covered hamburger patty on top of the lettuce leaf and cover with the top of the roll. Yield: 2 large cheeseburgers

Chipotle Crema:
1 c. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. buttermilk
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
¼ tsp. kosher salt

Put the heavy cream in a 16-ounce microwave-safe glass jar; add the buttermilk, stir the mixture, close the jar, and store in a warm place for 24 hours. The cream will have thickened to the consistency of thin yogurt.
Add the chipotle chile and salt and process with an immersion blender, in the jar, until smooth, approximately 20 seconds. Refrigerate until ready to use. Yield: Approximately 1 cup

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Trio of Sweet Potato Fries

I came up with the idea to do this trio after seeing an idea for it on someone else’s blog, but I did it with my own recipes for the sweet potato fries. While I’m sure that her fries were delicious, I am quite biased and rather enjoy the recipes I’ve come up with… :-)
The basil salted ones were not my original recipe, but when I saw Giada making the fries on her show I knew that I would have to try them! I made my version a little bit less salty and a little more basil-y, and adjusted some things in the dip, but didn’t change too much. They’re delightful just the way they are!
The Cajun seasoned sweet potato fries with wasabi dipping sauce was inspired after having something similar to them at a local restaurant. My recipe isn’t quite the same as the ones I had there, but I did love the idea of the wasabi dipping sauce. I can’t remember where I got my recipe for the wasabi sauce, but I do enjoy it immensely! The wasabi dip I had at the restaurant had cucumber in it, but I’m really quite fond of avocado and so I went with that option for the “cooling agent” in mine. For the Cajun seasoning, it’s a recipe that I’ve had for a long time and is actually from one of those little cards you can pick up in the grocery store. It’s originally for a salmon recipe, but I love the Cajun seasoning on so many other things that it’s just become my base recipe for it.
Now, for the caramelized sweet potatoes with caramel and marshmallow dipping sauce… A friend of mine told me about having something similar to them when she went out to eat with a friend of hers. She told me what she had had, and what it tasted like, and then I took it from there and just ran with it. And this is what I came up with! Admittedly, although the others are very good, this one is my very favorite. (What can I say? I have a terribly large sweet tooth!)

Printable Recipe

5 sweet potatoes
Flour and cornstarch, for dredging
Canola oil, for deep frying
Brown sugar
Basil Salt, recipe follows
Cajun Seasoning, recipe follows
Caramel Marshmallow Dipping Sauce, recipe follows
Garlic Mayonnaise, recipe follows
Wasabi Dipping Sauce, recipe follows

Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into fries, approximately ½-inch thick. Place in a bowl of ice water to soak for at least 30 minutes. (Soaking removes starch, which helps the potatoes crisp when deep fried.)
Prepare all of the dipping sauces.
Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 375° and preheat the broiler. Combine two parts flour and one part cornstarch, mix a third of the flour mixture with the Cajun seasoning. Drain the sweet potatoes in batches and toss them in the cornstarch mixture (make sure that all fries are evenly coated), making sure to toss a third of the sweet potatoes with the Cajun-spiced flour mixture. Add to the oil in batches and cook until golden and crispy, approximately 8 minutes, and drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle half of the plain flour mixture-coated fries lightly with brown sugar, toss to coat. Broil the fries for two minutes, or until the sugar caramelizes and forms a nice crispy crust. Serve with the Caramel Marshmallow Dipping Sauce.
After removing the other half of the plain flour mixture-coated fries to a paper towel-lined plate, sprinkle them with the Basil Salt and serve with the Garlic Mayonnaise. Serve the Cajun spiced sweet potato fries with the Wasabi Dipping Sauce. Makes 4 servings

Caramel Marshmallow Dipping Sauce:
3 Tbsp. heavy cream
3 Tbsp. butter
½ c. brown sugar
½ tsp. salt
Marshmallow Cream

Add all of the ingredients to a small pot and bring to a boil. The longer you boil the mixture, the thicker the sauce will be. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool. Slightly warm and swirl the marshmallow cream into the caramel sauce and use as a dipping sauce for the caramelized sweet potato fries.

Basil Salt:
2 Tbsp. dried basil leaves
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. sea salt

Combine the basil, pepper, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

Garlic Mayonnaise:
¾ c. mayonnaise
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, garlic powder, and lemon juice, and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate to allow the flavors to marry. Serve as a dipping sauce for the basil salted sweet potato fries.

Cajun Seasoning:
1½ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. thyme
½ tsp. basil
½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. seasoning salt
⅛ tsp. cayenne pepper

Combine all of the spices and store in an airtight container.

Wasabi Dipping Sauce:
1 avocado
⅓ c. mayonnaise
⅓ c. cream cheese
1 - 2 Tbsp. prepared wasabi
1 lime, juiced
Splash of heavy cream
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Combine the avocado, mayonnaise, cream cheese, wasabi, and lime juice in the bowl of a food processor. Blend for 1 minute or until you have a smooth paste, adding a little bit of heavy cream to thin it out slightly; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and place in the refrigerator, allowing the flavors to marry. Serve with the Cajun spiced sweet potato fries.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Taco Soup

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo…

I came up with this recipe a few months ago, after ordering a version of it in a restaurant and being severely disappointed when it showed up in front of me. Perhaps I took the name of the menu item too literally, but when I order something called “Taco Soup” I expect it to have some kind of taco flavor. Instead, what I got was nothing more than a bowl of chili with corn mixed into it…
Almost immediately, I began thinking of how I would make it, if it were my soup. Perhaps some of you will remember the Chicken Taco Soup I blogged about a few months ago, which was actually a variation of this recipe. This was the initial recipe I came up with, and then I changed it up at the last minute because chicken was on sale at the grocery store. Since then, I made this version, and then I made plenty of extra soup so that I could freeze it for later, any time I want it! You can also brown the meat and then place all of the soup ingredients in a Crock Pot to simmer all day, which will help to make the soup extra tasty. I even throw my frozen blocks of soup into the crock pot when I'm going to be busy, and then I have a nice, hot dinner when I return home!
Please, don't be daunted by the long list of ingredients. This really is very easy to make, and most of the ingredients are for the taco seasoning mix or are the garnishes for the top of the soup. If you don't want to make your own taco seasoning, you may feel free to use the packaged variety... I do encourage everyone to try making their own, though! It's not at all difficult to measure out the ingredients for the seasoning mix, and you can feel so much better about it because you know what you're eating and what's gone into your food. I like being able to control the sodium content in my food, since so many packaged products go overboard with the salt, so I find the little bit of extra time well worth it.
What I think really sets my version(s) of this soup apart is that it really does have taco flavor. For the base, I started with my chili recipe and then changed things to be more of a taco-flavored soup, making sure to put plenty of taco seasoning in the mix, and then topped it the same way I did with the Chicken Taco Soup, the way I imagined it being presented to me the very first time I ordered it. (Wouldn’t you be a little disappointed too, if this was the picture in your head and were given something not even equivalent to your expectations?!) One thing that I did this time was that I added a couple handfuls of fresh baby spinach leaves to the soup, which you don’t have to do. It doesn’t really give it any extra flavor, but it does improve the nutritional value a little bit more! :-)

Happy Cinco de Mayo!!

Printable Recipe

1 lb. ground sirloin
1 lb. ground chicken or turkey breast
6 Tbsp. chili powder
3 Tbsp. ground cumin
1½ tsp. garlic powder
1½ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. sea salt
4½ tsp. smoked paprika
3 tsp. ground coriander
1½ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. cornstarch
2 c. low-sodium beef broth
1 (2.87 oz.) container chili powder
2 qt. tomato juice
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
2 (14.5 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, drained
Fresh tomatoes, diced
Green onion, sliced
Lettuce, shredded
Black olives, sliced
Shredded cheddar cheese
Guacamole or diced avocado
Sour cream
Tortilla chips or thin tortilla strips

Combine the chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, paprika, coriander, and cayenne pepper in a bowl; divide the mixture into a ⅓ portion and a ⅔ portion, mixing the cornstarch with the ⅓ portion, and set aside.
Spray a stockpot with cooking spray and add the ground sirloin and chicken or turkey breast, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until all of the meat is cooked through and slightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, to break up the meat.
Once the hamburger is cooked through, add the ⅓ portion of spice mixture and beef broth; bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until sauce is slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix the remaining ⅔ portion of spice mixture and the chili powder with some tomato juice and whisk until well incorporated, and then add it to the stockpot. Add the remaining tomato juice, tomato sauce, canned diced tomatoes, and black beans. Simmer the soup for at least an hour to allow all of the flavors to marry and enhance.
When soup is ready, serve it in bowls (make sure to leave some room at the top of your bowl) and top with fresh tomatoes, green onions, lettuce, black olives, shredded cheddar cheese, avocado, and sour cream. Sprinkle with thin-cut tortilla strips or serve with tortilla chips.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fish Tacos with Fresh Strawberry Salsa and Chipotle Crema

This has become my all-time favorite recipe for fish tacos. I started out making Alton Brown’s recipe, which is a great base, but it seemed like it needed a little something more. I love Alton Brown and I hold him in high standards, but I just needed a little bit more this time… Something bright-flavored… Mind you, I don’t like a lot of extras on my fish tacos, so I didn’t want them overflowing with a bunch of crap that would mask the other flavors already in the dish.
Last week, I had picked up strawberries when they were on sale at my local market for only $0.98, and they needed to be used up, so I got the idea for a strawberry salsa into my head. The search began for something close to what I wanted… To my surprise, I actually found the perfect recipe to accompany what I was thinking in my head! There aren’t a whole lot of ingredients in this salsa, which is exactly what I wanted! I didn’t want something with jalapeños in it, since I already had the chipotle crema, and the ingredients matched the other flavors so well that I couldn’t pass it up. I did change the juice aspect of it, simply because I wanted to keep all of the flavors somewhat similar, but it was fantastic otherwise.
Then, I decided… Well, since I have these other strawberries to use up and they’re so authentically Mexican, I’ll make some strawberry margaritas to go with my dinner! I used a recipe on All Recipes that had rave reviews as my base, and went from there. I froze my strawberries and then used those instead of ice cubes, so that my margaritas weren’t watered down. I also sincerely believe that tequila is more than enough alcohol, so don’t usually add multiple liquors in my drinks. I do like the bright orange flavor, though, so I juiced the last lonely orange in my refrigerator.
What a great spring dinner this was! It was actually a warm day here in De Pere, so the lightness of the dish was most welcome. And, of course, the margarita was great to wash it all down! :-)

Printable Recipe

6 cloves garlic
2 c. packed cilantro leaves
4 limes, zested and juiced
4 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ c. tequila
2 lb. tilapia fillets
1 Tbsp. olive oil
8 small round flour tortillas
Shredded cabbage
Lime wedges
Chipotle Crema, recipe follows
Strawberry Salsa, recipe follows
Strawberry Margaritas, recipe follows

Put the garlic, cilantro, lime zest, lime juice, cumin, salt, and pepper in a small food processor bowl and pulse until combined, approximately 20 seconds. With the processor running, add the tequila. Put the tilapia fillets into a 1 gallon resealable bag, add the garlic mixture and move around to coat each fillet. Set aside at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes.
Heat an electric nonstick griddle to 375°.
Brush the griddle with the olive oil. Cook the fillets until just cooked through and opaque about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Cut into strips and serve in warm tortillas with shredded cabbage, lime wedges, crema, and strawberry salsa.

Chipotle Crema:
1 c. heavy cream
2 Tbsp. buttermilk
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
¼ tsp. kosher salt

Put the heavy cream in a 16-ounce microwave-safe glass jar. Microwave on high until the cream is just under 100°F, about 30 to 40 seconds. Add the buttermilk, close the jar, and store in a warm place for 24 hours. The cream will have thickened to the consistency of thin yogurt.
Add the chipotle chile and salt and process with an immersion blender, in the jar, until smooth, approximately 20 seconds. Refrigerate until ready to use. Yield: approximately 1 cup

Strawberry Salsa:
1 pint fresh strawberries, diced
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
3 Tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. coarse sea salt
½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
Juice of 1 lime and ½ medium-size orange

Mix all ingredients together, and refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes. Makes approximately 2 cups

Strawberry Margaritas:
8 oz. frozen strawberries
1 Tbsp. sugar
4 - 6 fl. oz. tequila
2 fl. oz. freshly squeezed orange juice
4 fl. oz frozen limeade concentrate
Lime wedges, for garnish
Sugar, for rimming the glasses

Fill a blender with the strawberries, sugar, tequila, orange juice, and limeade concentrate; blend for 30 seconds or until smooth. If you’d like, add a few ice cubes and blend again. Serve in margarita glasses with the rims wetted from running the lime wedges around them and then dipped in sugar.