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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Chicken Gumbo

It's New Year's Eve! Hope you all have plans to celebrate with family and friends! KK and I are hosting a few friends at our place, so we've spent the day finalizing the menu and putting out a few festive decorations.  2013 was full of memorable moments! To name just a few: I took fabulous trips to Orlando, New Orleans, Italy, and Portugal; celebrated at three weddings; became an aunt x2 when my twin niece and nephew were born; and KK and I celebrated our 1st anniversary (the frozen cake was delicious!).  I can't wait to see what's in store for 2014!

Before we close out 2013, here's the other hearty meal KK added to the Christmas week menu when we learned my dad wasn't feeling well.  KK's had his eye on this gumbo recipe for quite some time, but hasn't been able to find the frozen cut okra at our local grocery store.  Although we were able to find the okra in Virginia, we had to flip the chicken-to-sausage ratio because Harris Teeter didn't have larger rotisserie chicken.  Nevertheless, I feel like the additional sausage made it feel more like gumbo and less like chicken soup.  The original recipe also didn't have enough zing for me, but my addition of Cajun seasoning added the perfect amount of flavor.  As recommended by Martha, I served this gumbo with a side of Jiffy cornbread.  My dad, KK, and I all had seconds, so I consider this dish a success! Plus, the leftovers make for a perfect lunch or dinner a few days later!

Chicken Gumbo
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6-8

Ingredients
3 Tbsp canola oil
⅓ cup flour
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
½ Tbsp Cajun seasoning
1 tsp oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
14 oz. precooked smoked andouille sausage
16 oz. bag frozen cut okra
2 cups water
2 cups chicken broth
1.75 lb rotisserie chicken, skin and bones removed, meat shredded

Directions
1. Heat oil over medium in a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot.  Add flour and whisk constantly for 5-7 minutes, until flour turns a pale golden color.  Stir in bell peppers, onion, garlic, Cajun seasoning, and oregano; season with salt and pepper.  Stir occasionally and cook 10-12 minutes; vegetables will just be starting to soften.

2. Half sausage lengthwise, and cut into 1-inch thick slices.  Add sausage, okra, water, and chicken broth to the pot.  Bring to a boil, then stir in shredded chicken and heat until warmed through, about 2 minutes.  Season to taste with additional salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tuscan Sausage Soup

KK and I made it safely back to Hoboken on Friday.  I won't go into detail about the painfully slow 6-hour drive which was supposed to take only 4, but you get the picture! We spent most of yesterday putting away our Christmas loot, finishing up some organizational/cleaning-related projects, and got some errands out of the way.  Back in November, my optometrist mentioned that my Vision Plan included an allowance for frames that could be converted to tinted lenses... meaning massively discounted designer sunglasses! I'd forgotten about this great deal, but luckily remembered while we were in Virginia, so I made a beeline to Eyeshapes yesterday and picked out a fun pair which will be in my possession in 7-10 days!  Now, I feel like we're ready for New Year's Eve (we're hosting a few friends), and that I just need to make sure to fend off any lingering germs I may've picked up while visiting my dad!

This is another one of the soups I made while KK and I were at my dad's house for Christmas.  Feast on the Cheap's picture looked so creamy and delicious when I saw this on Pinterest, we just had to try it! To my surprise, there actually isn't any cream in the recipe! It's chock full of vegetables and chicken broth - just what my sick dad needed. The original recipe made enough soup for 12 (so really 8 if it's being served to my dad and KK), so we halved the recipe and it made 4 hearty servings.  As the sausage cooks, break it into bite-sized pieces.  Once you start adding vegetables to the pot, it'll be harder to find and break up the sausage bits.  Next, you'll add the carrots and onions because they take the longest to cook.  After this step, the carrots will be slightly tender on the outside, but still crunchy on the inside; the onions will be golden brown.  My pasta took longer than I thought to cook, so I've increased the length of the last step to reflect the required cook time.  By adding some crushed red pepper to each serving, you'll not only spice up the soup, but you'll also help open up the sinuses of anyone eating it! Enjoy!

Tuscan Sausage Soup
Adapted from Feast on the Cheap
Time: 35 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients
2 tsp canola oil
1 lb. Italian sausage
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ quarts chicken broth
14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
8 oz. medium pasta shells
½ Tbsp dried basil
6 oz. spinach leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese for topping, optional

Directions
1. Heat canola oil over medium high heat in a large stockpot.  Remove sausage casings and cook in the stockpot until browned and crumbled. 

2. Add carrots, onion and garlic; saute until tender and starting to turn, about 5-7 minutes.

3. Add chicken broth, tomatoes, beans, pasta and basil.  Increase heat to high and bring mixture to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until pasta just becomes tender, about 7 minutes.

4. Stir in spinach and cook until wilted, about 8-10 minutes; pasta will finish cooking.  Season with salt and pepper, top with grated Parmesan, and serve warm.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Chicken Fajita Sandwiches

I hope everyone had a great Christmas!! We spent the weekend in Delaware with KK’s family.  It’s so exciting to see our twin niece and nephew growing bigger and bigger every time we see them! KK’s parents came too, so we had an early Christmas with the whole family.  It was a balmy 65 degrees on Saturday, so we took the twins outside for a bit to enjoy the weather!  Since they aren’t old enough to open gifts, KK and I had to help them out.  We got them some developmental toys and some of my favorite childhood books – The Polar Express (a seasonal favorite), The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book, and Goodnight Moon.  I can’t wait to read with the twins as they grow older!

After our stopover in Delaware, KK and I continued down to my dad’s house in VA.  We did some last minute shopping, visiting with old friends, and a lot of cooking! We spent Christmas Eve with our family friends who live just 15 minutes away from my dad’s house.  It wouldn’t be Christmas without taking the obligatory “kids picture” next to the fireplace.  KK, being the newest “kid” in the group, enjoys looking at the collection of these annual photos displayed at their house; it’s fun to see how we’ve changed over the years! We had quite the spread of food this year – veggie platter, fancy cheeses, and artichoke dip to start with; salad with goat cheese and mustard dressing, sherry chicken, and homemade mashed potatoes for dinner; and Rice Krispie wreathes, lemon bars (a family recipe not to be shared online - sorry!), and Guinness Carbomb Cupcakes for dessert.  My dad selected a few different red wines for dinner, and saved a special bottle of V. Sattui 1998 Vintage Port to have with dessert.  Everything was delicious and we all left thinking we’d never eat again!

True to our word, we skipped the big Christmas morning breakfast because we were too full from the previous night.  After opening stockings and presents, we played with our new electronics (Boom Urchin for KK, Microsoft Surface for my dad, and Canon PowerShot for me) for awhile.  After venturing out to see Gravity, we were finally ready for a proper meal.  Taking advantage of my dad’s grill, KK decided we’d have grilled chicken for Christmas dinner – Chicken Fajita Sandwiches to be exact.  Since the original recipe was for 2, we doubled the chicken, veggies, and marinade ingredients (already represented below).  The marinade was incredibly flavorful; I could taste the Corona, and the blend of spices worked very well together.  If you don't have Corona, I suggest using another light-yet-flavorful beer like Heineken or one of the Abita brews.  Make sure you seal the vegetable foil packet well; you don't want to loose any of the juices and steam that are brewing together to cook the vegetables.  We used sesame kaiser rolls, and served the sandwiches with Harris Teeter Sweet Potato Crinkle Cut Fries (coated with several dashes of Cajun seasoning before they baked) and leftover salad from Christmas Eve.  It was another filling meal, but we still had room for breakfast pancakes this morning!

Chicken Fajita Sandwiches
Adapted from Nibble Me This
Time: 30 minutes + marination time (2-4 hours)
Serves: 4

Marinade Ingredients
1 cup Corona
½ cup canola oil
½ cup lime juice
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp red pepper flakes

Other Ingredients
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1.5 lb. boneless chicken breasts, butterflied
2-4 slices Pepper Jack cheese
4 kaiser rolls
Chipotle mayo or mustard, for serving

Directions
1. Combine marinade ingredients in a large bowl, preferable one with a spout.  Place sliced vegetables in a gallon Ziploc bag, and pour ⅔ cup marinade over the vegetables.  Place chicken in a separate Ziploc bag, and coat with remaining marinade.  Squish bags to coat vegetables and chicken thoroughly; refrigerate 2-4 hours.

2. Preheat grill to 400.

3. Drain excess marinade from the vegetables.  Place vegetables on a 12" x 24" piece of aluminum foil.  Fold foil over to make a packet surrounding the vegetables.  Grill until vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes per side.

4. Remove chicken from marinade and grill 4 minutes on one side.  Flip and top each piece with some the cooked vegetables; cook an additional 3 minutes.

5. Top each piece of chicken with cheese, close grill, and cook for an additional minute until cheese melts. At the same time, toast kaiser rolls.  Assemble chicken sandwiches immediately, topping with additional vegetables; if desired, spread kaiser rolls with chipotle mayo or mustard.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Zucchini & Gnocchi in Brown Butter Sauce

Work's been slow this week because everyone is easing into holiday vacation mode.  I took advantage of that and met KK and one of our friends at Amanda's in Hoboken for their early bird special.  Typical entrees at Amanda's are usually between $20-30, but the early bird special offers a 3-course meal for just $16! It would be nearly impossible to get away from work and out to dinner by 5:30 on a normal night, so we jumped at the opportunity to slip away from our desks just before the 5 o'clock bell to enjoy the fantastic deal.  KK and I both started with polenta (I can't believe I haven't posted about my love for polenta yet - more on that another time, I promise!) with a three cheese sauce.  We all tried different things for our mains - pan seared chicken, pork medallions with mint sauce, and pasta with asparagus and veggies.  We all cleared our plates, but still saved room for dessert.  We also enjoyed a nice tempranillo for $20 as part of the special, but unfortunately I didn't take note of the wine maker.  After dinner, we headed over to an impromptu wine night at our friends' apartment.  Unlike us, they managed to save some cookies from last weekend's cookie swap, so they had it all - wine, cheese, and sweets.  We also played our group's favorite party game - the bowl game.  It's similar to Celebrity, but you throw any noun into the hat, not just celebrity names.  It's a good party game because all you need is pens, paper, and a bowl.

We had a great time with friends last night, a few I hadn't seen in quite some time, but now I wish I had today off from work.  Just one more day to go before my holiday break begins, but before I go, I'll give you the final post from Thanksgiving :)

Last, but certainly not least, this is the last recipe I made while we were in Hilton Head.  KK forgot to add butter to our original grocery list, so we had to make an extra trip out for it because you can’t have brown butter sauce without butter! Timing is key when you’re making brown butter sauce.  If you cook it too long, the butter will burn; if you don’t cook it long enough, the nutty flavor will not develop properly.  As it cooks, the butter will quickly (within a matter of minutes depending on your skillet) turn into a nice golden brown color.  I used fresh gnocchi this time, but you can also use frozen gnocchi and increase the cook time by a few minutes. The timeshare kitchen didn’t have a mandolin, but it did have a grater.  With that, I was able to thinly and uniformly slice the zucchini, but I wasn’t able to make proper, lengthwise ribbons… luckily, the dish still tasted great! :)

Zucchini & Gnocchi in Brown Butter Sauce
Adapted from Eating Well
Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 2

Ingredients
1 lb. gnocchi
3 Tbsp butter
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 small zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions
1. Cook gnocchi according to package directions, until they float which takes 3-5 minutes once water has boiled.  Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook until the butter is beginning to brown, 2-3 minutes. Add onions and zucchini; stir frequently and cook 2-3 minutes until softened.  Add tomatoes, nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper.  Continue cooking and stirring an additional 2-3 minutes until tomatoes begin to soften and break down.  Stir in Parmesan and cooked gnocchi, toss to coat, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Spinach & Eggplant Casserole

KK and I are heading down to Delaware to celebrate Christmas with his brother's family this weekend.  I cannot wait to see how big my niece and nephew have grown in the last month! After that visit, we'll continue south and spend a few days at my Dad's house in Virginia.  Before we hit the road, I figured it would be a good idea to clear out the backlog of posts that were meant to be published last month (whoops!) - this being one of the meals I made while we were in Hilton Head for Thanksgiving.  You’ll notice the limited number of ingredients and spices required, which is a must when cooking in a foreign kitchen without a stocked pantry! I only had a small baking sheet, so I had to broil the eggplant in three batches.  If you have a typical baking sheet, I suspect it will only take two rounds to broil everything.  Alternatively, you could grill the eggplant using an outdoor grill.  My dad doesn’t typically eat vegetarian dishes, but the texture of the eggplant made this dish quite filling; I also didn’t hear any complaints from him about the lack of meat! I added ½ a red bell pepper because we didn't have plans to use it in another recipe.  It was a positive addition to the dish, so next time I’ll add a whole bell pepper (already indicated below).  This dish is already full of vegetables – eggplant, spinach, and red peppers – but feel free to go light on the cheese to make it even healthier.

Spinach & Eggplant Casserole
Adapted from Eating Mindfully
Time: 1 hour
Serves: 4

Ingredients
1 large eggplant
2 Tbsp olive oil
Italian seasoning, to taste
6-8 oz. spinach
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jar pasta sauce
1 cup shredded Italian blend cheese

Direction
1. Cut eggplant into ⅓-to ½-in thick slices.  Brush both sides with olive oil, season with Italian seasoning.  Lay slices on a baking sheet, then cook under a broiler set on high heat for 5 minutes.  Flip over eggplant pieces, and cook for another 5 minutes.

2.  Preheat oven to 375.

3. Meanwhile, steam spinach and red pepper in a lidded nonstick skillet until thoroughly wilted, about 5-10 minutes.

4.  Spread a thin layer of marinara sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.  Begin layering the casserole with a layer of eggplant slices, then spinach, then sauce.  Continue layering until all of the ingredients are used.  The final layer should be sauce.  Sprinkle cheese on top of the casserole.

5. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until cheese starts to bubble and brown.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Red Velvet Butter Cookies

As I mentioned on Saturday, I went to my friend Emily's Holiday Cookie Swap in Brooklyn last night.  I've always wanted to go to a cookie swap, so I was excited to see Emily's invite and I wasn't about to let a few inches of snow prevent me from participating last night! Each guest was asked to bring two dozen cookies to ensure there were plenty to taste immediately, but still enough to bring home for later.  We had ten different varieties of baked goods - mostly cookies, but also some carrot cake cupcakes and chocolate biscotti.  We setup in the lounge area of the apartment building, so we quickly made friends with the other people hanging out there.  We let them taste the cookies, but made them vote! With votes from our new friends and each of the bakers, there were four winners:
              Best tasting: Red velvet (woo!!!!)
              Best presentation: Dulce de Leche sandwiches
              Best overall: White chocolate oatmeal cookies with sea salt
              Most original: Decorated sugar cookies

Emily was such an amazing host, and she even had small prizes for the winners.  I went home with a new spatula and party napkins.  We all left with boxes full of leftover cookies which I know KK is happy about because he's munching on a sugar cookie right now.  The evening was such a hit, hopefully it'll become an annual tradition!

When I first baked these cookies last year (pre-blog), they were devoured by my coworkers in record time.  When I saw a box of red velvet cake mix on sale at the store, I snatched it up and planned to make these again for July 4th.  That, unfortunately, did not happen because I forgot the dough had to be refrigerated for 2+ hours (check out the Firecracker Cookies I made instead).  Since these cookies are red, festive, and delicious, I decided to make them for the holiday cookie swap instead.  I recommend using regular cream cheese, instead of reduced fat or fat free.  Although I prefer fat free cream cheese on bagels, I think it tastes strange in dips and cookies.  If you don't have the time or patience for the butter and cream cheese to reach room temperature, nuke them in the microwave - cream cheese for about 20 seconds, butter for 15.  It is important to have the dough firm up in the refrigerator before baking to ensure the cookies hold their shape.  These cookies can be served by themselves, with ice cream, or even dunked into hot chocolate (try it - it's really good!).

Red Velvet Butter Cookies
Adapted from Taste and Tell
Time: 3 hours
Yields: 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients
8-oz regular cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract 
15-16 oz. box red velvet cake mix
3/4 cup powdered sugar

Directions
1. Cream together cream cheese and butter using an electric mixer.  Beat in egg, vanilla extract, and cake mix.  Mix until thoroughly combined; dough will be sticky.  Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least two hours.

2. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350.

3.  Roll chilled dough into tablespoon-sized balls.  Roll each ball in powdered sugar.  Place onto an ungreased cookie sheet; alternatively use baking splats or parchment paper.  Bake 10-12 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.  Return uncooked dough to the refrigerator as each batch bakes.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Crockpot Santa Fe Chicken

KK and I got into the Christmas spirit yesterday by partaking in a Twelve Pubs of Christmas bar crawl.  And, of course, we all wore ugly Christmas sweaters.  This is the third annual pub crawl organized by my Irish friend Dave, so he made sure we stuck to a strict schedule of 30 minutes per bar.  Dave's also perfected the art of selecting bars in close proximity to one another, so this year's route was in the Financial District:
1. The Dubliner: KK arrived promptly for the 6PM kickoff toast.
2. Becketts
3. Stone Street Tavern
4. The Growler: This is where I joined the fun!
5. Ulysses': A few of us moved here early to order and inhale a quick dinner!
6. Harry's
7. Mercantile Grill
8. Killarney Rose
9. The Full Shilling: KK and I opted to make this our last stop because we wanted to catch the last direct train back to Hoboken.

I'm sad we weren't able to stick it out until the end, but glad we avoided massive hangovers! Keeping the holiday festivities going, I'm heading to a cookie swap tonight.  My dough's been in the refrigerator for almost 2 hours, so it'll be time for me to get baking once I finish this post!

As the temperature drops, soups and slow cooker recipes are making their way back into the rotation.  I have a love-hate relationship with the slow cooker; I love it because it makes dinner so easy and simple, but I hate it for the same reasons because it eliminates the fun of preparing the meal.  And, like most slow cooker meals, this one was simple: simply toss everything into the slow cooker, cover, cook for several hours, then enjoy!  KK and I both topped our dishes with crushed tortilla chips - the crunchiness was a nice touch.  I also turned mine into a “Santa Fe salad” by adding a substantial amount of lettuce to my bowl.  This meal could also be served plain, over rice, or made into a wrap with tortillas or large pieces of lettuce.

Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken
Time: 5 hrs on low, or 9 hrs on high
Serves: 6

Ingredients
1 lb. chicken breasts (can be frozen)
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes with mild green chilies, drained
15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 ½ cups frozen corn
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Optional toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole

Directions
1. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a slow cooker.  Nestle chicken into mixture and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-6 hours.

2. 30 minutes prior to serving, shred with two forks.

3. Serve warm, and garnish with your favorite toppings.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Caprese Chicken

It’s snowing!!! We actually had our first snow of the season on Sunday, but it was just a dusting.  It was nothing compared to the accumulation seen in other areas of the northeast.  Did anyone see the near-blizzard at the Eagles game? As a Redskins fan, I do not typically watch Eagles games, but NFL RedZone kept switching to their game because of the weather! It was crazy – I don’t know how the players were able to see the ball, let alone make any progress down the field! Anyway… I digress! It’s snowing in New Jersey again today and, even though I’m at work, I get a little giddy reminiscing about the snow days of my childhood… sledding down the driveway, building snowmen, climbing all over the piles of snow my dad so diligently work to clear from the driveway.  Luckily, I think KK has a soup planned for dinner tonight; it’ll be the perfect end to this snowy day.  In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this caprese chicken dish that I threw together for dinner a few weeks ago (I’m incredibly far behind with posts!).

One word about this meal – delicious! Not only was it packed full of flavor, but it also came together incredibly quickly! I recommend halving the tomatoes before starting the chicken because the tomatoes need almost the same amount of cook time as the chicken.  Since, as you know, we don’t usually have fresh herbs on hand, I substituted The Novice Chef’s fresh basil for the dried variety, and thought it tasted just fine (proven by the fact that there were no leftovers).  Admittedly, we usually use a cheapo brand of balsamic vinegar, but the original recipe recommended using a higher quality one, so I busted out the good stuff, which is visibly thicker than the lower quality balsamics.  My parents stumbled upon Salumeria Italian in Boston’s North End several years ago, and got me hooked on Rubio Aged balsamic vinegar.  If you’re ever in Boston, check out their store, or just order their exclusive balsamic vinegar online! Treating ourselves with some wine, we uncorked a bottle of Arger-Martucci 2006 Odyssey Estate Reserve Red.  This blend was 35% Cab Sav, 32% Merlot, 28% Cab Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot.  I liked this wine more than KK, probably because he hasn’t had too many good Cab Savs because they take so long to age!

Caprese Chicken
Adapted from The Novice Chef
Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 2

Ingredients
1 lb chicken breasts
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
1 tsp dried basil
Pinch dried oregano
8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced into ½-in thick pieces
Balsamic vinegar, to taste

Directions
1. Butterfly chicken breasts into 4-6 pieces, depending on the size of original breasts; season both sides with salt and pepper.

2. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high in a large skillet.  Add chicken, cover and cook for 7-8 minutes, flipping half way through. 

3. In a separate skillet, warm remaining olive oil over medium-high heat.  Sauté garlic for 1 minute, or until fragrant.  Add tomatoes and herbs; stir frequently, sautéing until tomatoes skin begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

4. Once chicken is cooked through, top each chicken piece with mozzarella slices.  Cover chicken with tomato mixture, cover pan and let mozzarella melt, about 1-2 minutes.

5. Plate chicken and a healthy scoop of tomatoes, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Taco Stuffed Shells

Where has the time gone? Last week flew by – probably because I had most of the week off from work, and it was spent relaxing with family in Hilton Head.  I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and a successful Black Friday! With a Verizon contract renewal, KK and my dad got a free Samsung Galaxy S4 from Best Buy.  I wasn’t in the market for any new electronics, but I was especially excited to snag the last bag of Gingerbread M&M’s which are sold exclusively at WalMart! I also scored a new purse from the Coach outlet; unfortunately, I won’t get my hands on it until Christmas when Santa puts it under the tree.  Speaking of the tree, we drove from Hilton Head to Northern Virginia on Saturday and spent the day at my dad’s house before heading back to Hoboken.  Since we had some time to kill, I decided it was time to decorate the Christmas tree! Isn’t she a beauty!? It’s hard to believe that Christmas is just over 3 weeks away, but I’m certainly looking forward to spending more time with family in the weeks to come!

Since I’ve made taco seasoning before, KK had me whip up another batch of it for this meal.  He also decided that we’d give homemade taco sauce a try as well.  We found a recipe on The Make Your Own Zone, combined all the ingredients in a lidded bowl, spiced it up with an additional heaping ½ teaspoon chili powder, refrigerated it (covered) for a few hours to let the flavors blend together, and then nuked it in the microwave for 30 seconds when I was ready to use it.  It was delicious.  We'll probably never buy canned taco sauce again.  Ok - that's clearly an exaggeration, but now we have the option to make our own in a pinch, rather than running out to the store if we don't have any in stock! I used about 1½ cups of cheese to top the shells; we probably could've done with a little less cheese, but KK convinced me to finish the open package rather than leave such a small amount unused.  We were, after all, on our way out of town for Thanksgiving! My usual complaint about stuffed shells is the lack of sauce and often times they come out of the oven looking very dry.  However, that wasn’t the case with these stuffed shells! There was a nice layer of salsa and taco sauce on the bottom of the pan which KK and I used to top off our shells.  With that being said, we’ll probably need to add salsa when we reheat the leftovers, but that’s to be expected as the shells will absorb the excess liquid in the refrigerator. 

Taco Stuffed Shells
Adapted from Gonna Want Seconds
Time: 1 hour
Serves: 4

Ingredients
14-18 large pasta shells
1 lb. ground turkey
¼ cup (1 package) taco seasoning
4-oz. cream cheese
Cooking spray
1 cup salsa
1 - 1 ½ cups taco sauce
1-2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese
Sour cream, optional topping

Directions:
1. Boil water in a large pot and cook shells according to package directions.  Preheat oven to 350° when pasta water boils.  Once pasta is done, drain and rinse with cold water.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over high heat.  Add ground turkey and taco seasoning to the skillet, and cook until turkey is no longer pink, about 5-8 minutes.  Stir in cream cheese; remove mixture from heat once cheese is completely melted.  Set aside and cool.

3. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray; coat bottom of the dish with salsa.  Stuff each shell with the meat mixture, and place shells open-side up in the prepared dish.  Cover shells with taco sauce.

4. Cover baking dish with tin foil and bake for 20-25 minutes; sauce will be bubbling.  Cover shells with shredded cheese and bake uncovered for an additional 5-10 minutes, until cheese melts.  If desired, serve with sour cream or additional salsa.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Apple & Sausage Pasta

Hello from Hilton Head! It's a little cold this year, with a high of 50 yesterday, but we're still spending as much time outside as possible! We discovered TJ's Take & Bake in 2003, and it's become a yearly tradition ever since.  Their motto is simple: "We make it fresh, you make it hot!" TJ's uses fresh ingredients and homemade dough to assemble pizzas, then customers pickup their orders and cook them at home.  Some of the other family Hilton Head traditions include: bike rides on the beach (check), a visit to Sea Pines Harbour Town (check), Thanksgiving dinner at Frankie Bones, and Black Friday at Tanger Outlets.

We stay at timeshares with (limited) kitchens, which we use for dinner a few times because eating out every night gets tiresome.  Preparing a menu to cook without knowing what kitchen supplies will be available, and without the staple ingredients we usually have in the pantry is quite a challenge for KK, but he takes it in stride.  He chose four recipes for this week, the first of which was this meal.  Despite the lack of good knives and a garlic press, the meal came together easily! If you can find it, IGE recommends using sweet-apple chicken sausage; ironically we usually avoid that flavor at home, but we were unable to find it at the HHI Harris Teeter.  To enhance the sweetness of the meal, use a sweet apple such as Honeycrisp or Fuji.  My dad recommended we use two apples instead of one next time, and I agree with him 100% (ingredients already updated)!

Apple & Sausage Pasta
Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4-6

Ingredients
1 lb gemelli
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
12 oz. chicken sausage, sliced or crumbled
2 sweet apples, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste
15 oz. Great Northern Beans can, drained and rinsed
6 oz. spinach
1 cup chicken broth
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions
1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve ½ cup pasta water before draining pasta.

2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute onions and sausage until sausage is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Break up any large pieces of sausage.  Toss in apple, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper.  Continue sauteing 5 more minutes; apple pieces will become tender. Add beans, spinach, chicken broth, and Parmesan; stir 2-3 minutes until spinach is wilted.

3. Combine sausage and apple mixture with pasta, and stir until combined.  If desired, add reserved pasta water to reach desired consistency.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Paprika Chicken

Thanksgiving is just over a week away! Most people find it shocking that I'm not a fan of traditional Thanksgiving fare: I don't like cooked turkey, stuffing, gravy, or cranberry sauce.  Nevertheless, I love Thanksgiving because it means I get to spend time with my family.  Every year, we spend a week on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.  While the temperature isn't typically warm enough for suntanning, the 60° weather is a much needed break from the 30-40s in the northeast.  We enjoy the break from work, spending time outside riding bikes and walking on the beach.  Our flight leaves early (5AM!) this Saturday, and it cannot come soon enough!

This dish was simply divine.  It met some of our top favorite recipe requirements: pasta, saucy, and spicy! Mirepoix was a new ingredient for me, and KK told me it’s actually in a few of my saved recipes.  Traditionally a French ingredient, mirepoix is a combination of chopped celery, carrots, and onion that is used as a flavor base for soups and sauces.  Thank you Wikipedia! I used even portions of the three ingredients, and have increased the amount from 1 cup to 1 ½ below because I thought the base sauce could use a little more flavor (and vegetables).  I decided to butterfly my chicken breasts to reduce the cook time, and it only took about 15 minutes for the chicken to cook through in step #3.  I have a few different types of paprika in my spice cabinet, so I used 2 parts spicy smoked paprika and 1 part sweet-smoked.  Using the sweet paprika took a bit of spicy edge out of the flavoring.  After adding the chicken, egg noodles, and caramelized onions to the sauce, our preference was to keep the mixture quite saucy, but you can always leave the mixture on the heat for a little while longer if you prefer the sauce level reduced a bit.  I'm normally not excited about leftovers, but I'm already thinking about having this for lunch today because it was just that good!

Paprika Chicken
Adapted from Feeding Andy
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 ½ cup mirepoix (small diced carrot, celery, and onion)
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, butterflied
1 ½ Tbsp paprika
3 Tbsp flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup white cooking wine
1 bay leaf
Pinch of dried thyme
8 oz. egg noodles
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, julienned or thinly sliced
3 Tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup evaporated milk
Parsley, for topping

Directions
1. In a large Dutch oven or casserole dish (with a lid), melt butter under medium heat.  Add mirepoix and sauté for about 3-4 minutes.  Push mirepoix to one side and add chicken breasts in an even layer.  Cook for 2 minutes per side; chicken will not be cooked through.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and sprinkle paprika on top of the chicken; cover and cook for 10 minutes.

2. Sprinkle flour on top of the chicken; stir to make a paste of the flour, chicken, paprika, and mirepoix.  Increase heat to medium, and cook for 4 minutes.

3. Add chicken broth, cooking wine, bay leaf, and thyme to the pot.  Bring to a boil at high heat, and then reduce heat to a low simmer.  Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  Remove chicken from pot, cut into bite-sized pieces, and set aside.

4. Meanwhile, cook egg noodles according to package directions.

5. While noodles cook, add olive oil to a medium sauté pan.  Sauté onions until they caramelize; season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

6. After removing the chicken, bring the sauce to a boil and reduce mixture by half, about 10 minutes.  Stir in evaporated milk and continue to reduce sauce until it is at desired consistency, about 5 minutes.  Stir in cooked egg noodles, onion, and chicken.  Garnish with parsley.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Creamy Chicken Taquitos

I must admit that I'd been avoiding this recipe for quite some time, but we were running out of recipes to cook before vacation so I had to bite the bullet and give it a try.  Why, you ask, was I avoiding it? I have another recipe for Chicken and Cheese Taquitos, and it just wasn't one of my favorites.  The original recipe was on the dry side, so I assumed this recipe would be the same.  WRONG! Annie's creamy version of taquitos was a home run in Apt. 3D!  The tortilla outside was nice and crispy, and the filling was the right amount of creamy.  It's hard to explain, but the crispy/creamy juxtaposition was just perfect.  I opted to top mine with salsa, and KK chose sour cream - either works.  Feel free to use smaller tortillas, and adjust the quantity of filling for each taquito accordingly.  If you're a busy bee, without much time to cook on a regular weeknight, you can assemble the taquitos on the weekend and freeze them.  When you're ready to eat them, just add a few additional minutes to the original bake time to ensure the filling is warmed through.  If the tops of the taquitos start to burn, cover them with tinfoil, and move the oven rack to its lowest position for the last few minutes of cook time.

Creamy Chicken Taquitos
Adapted from Annie's Eats
Time: 35 minutes
Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

1 lb. chicken, shredded or cut into cubes
1 small onion, chopped
Cooking spray
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup salsa
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp. onion powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese
5-6 burrito-sized tortillas
Salsa and sour cream, optional topping

Directions
1. In a large nonstick skillet, cook chicken and onions until chicken is no longer pink.  Plate and set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 425; line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat with cooking spray.

3. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, salsa, lime juice, spices, garlic, chicken and onion mixture, and shredded cheese.  Stir together until thoroughly combined.

4. If tortillas are not pliable, heat tortillas in microwave for 20 seconds.  Spoon about ¼ cup of the filling mixture on one edge of the tortilla.  Roll tortilla tightly around the filling, and place seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining tortillas and filling.  Spray tops of taquitos lightly with cooking spray.

5. Bake 15-20 minutes, until crisp and slightly browned.  Serve with sour cream and salsa, if desired.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Apple Crumb Pie

Since this is only the second pie I’ve ever made, I didn't have a favorite pie crust recipe to use.  The timing of Mel’s Kitchen post about pies was perfect – she posted about them the same week I planned to bake a pie.  I recommend reading the pie crust instructions carefully before you get started because it’s important to work quickly once you start combining the ingredients.  The less hands-on time you can manage with the crust, the better crust you’ll end up with! Without a box grater in my kitchen, I used my mandolin for “grating” the frozen butter.  It was an excellent improvisation until I cut my thumb on the last tiny piece I was slicing.  Ouch! I was surprised to see sour cream on the list of ingredients, but apparently that’s quite common.  As instructed, I used regular sour cream instead of following my instinct to use a low fat or fat free version.  I don’t know what the sour cream adds to the crust, but I know it resulted in a crust that was easy to roll out and get into a pie plate, and it was perfectly flaky and delicious.  I think this will now be my go-to pie crust recipe!

My original intent was to make a lattice top pie using my Freezer Apple Pie Filling, but this recipe's crumb streusel looked too tasty and easy to pass up.  The crumb topping not only saved me time (didn’t have to make/roll out another pie crust), but it also added some sweetness to the pie.  After about an hour in the oven, the edges of my crust started to brown, but the apples weren’t cooked through.  If you’ve ever tried cutting aluminum foil strips and covering a pie crust in a hot pie dish – you know it’s a near impossible feat to accomplish without burning yourself or damaging the crimped crust.  A little Googling revealed an ingenious solution for this predicament! Following Real Simple’s instructions, I cut a 12-inch square of aluminum foil, folded it in half twice, and then cut a circle out from the center.  After unfolding the foil, I had a piece that covered the edges of my pie perfectly! This pie can be served warm or at room temperature.  I brought this pie to my brother-in-law’s house over the weekend, and I thought it was delicious at room temperature, but KK opted to heat his slice in the microwave for 20 seconds.  Diner’s choice! Enjoy!

Apple Crumb Pie
Adapted from Mel’s Kitchen
Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Serves: 8-10

Pie Filling Ingredients
Freezer Apple Pie Filling

Pie Crust Ingredients
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp granulated sugar
10 Tbsp unsalted butter, frozen
½ cup + 1 tsp regular sour cream

Crumb Topping Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
⅓ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, refrigerated and cut into small pieces

Directions
1. Thaw Freezer Apple Pie Filling in the refrigerator overnight; drain excess liquid prior to baking.

2. For the crust: Whisk together the flour, salt and sugar in a medium bowl.  Grate frozen butter into the dry ingredients.

3. Toss the butter-flour mixture with a fork until the pieces of butter are thoroughly coated.  Using the same fork, mix in the sour cream, mashing down any lumps in the mixture.  Do not overwork the dough, but use your hands to combine the dough and bring it into a rough ball.  The dough can either be used immediately, or stored in plastic wrap for 1-2 days in the refrigerator or one month in the freezer.

4. Lightly flour the counter when you’re ready to roll out the pie crust.  Use a rolling pin, and firmly roll the dough from the center outwards, turning 90° every few strokes to prevent sticking.  Roll the dough out as thin as possible, re-flouring the counter if the crust begins to stick.  Roll the dough over the rolling pin and unroll it over the pie plate.  Carefully lift the edges of the crust and push it into the bottom of the pie plate.

5. Using clean kitchen scissors, trim the crust edges, leaving ¼-inch around the sides.  Fold up the overhanging crust and crimp the edges with your fingers, or a fork.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before baking.

6. Make the topping: Combine topping ingredients in a medium bowl and mix with a fork or your fingers until coarsely combined.

7. Preheat oven to 375°.  Fill pie crust with prepared/thawed apple slices; top with crumb mixture.  Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 1 hour 20 minutes.  Check pie after 1 hour; if crust has started to brown, cover edges with aluminum foil, and continue baking until apples are tender; crust should be golden brown, not burned.
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