Monday, June 28, 2010

Chicken Ranch Quesadillas

Since having the baby, dinner can be a little crazy around our house. Usually, one of us has to eat fast if he's cranky or I need something quick to make on the fly. I decided last night that quesadillas not only sounded really yummy, but would be quick to make and a satisfying summer meal. It was nice to have something that didn't require an oven and heat up the house!

The quesadillas also turned out to be a great use of leftover chicken. I usually hate leftovers so this gave me the chance to make something new out of the chicken I had and it didn't disappoint!

Chicken Ranch Quesadillas

1 T. vegetable oil
6 large flour tortillas
1 1/2 C. chicken, diced
1/2 C ranch dressing
1 1/2 C. mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 C. fresh tomatoes, finely diced
2-3 T. cilantro, chopped
1 C. corn (I used white corn, but any type would work here!)
1/2 C. bacon

In a skillet or sauté pan, heat 1 T. oil over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a large pan, mix together the chicken and ranch dressing. Add the cheese, tomatoes, cilantro, corn, and bacon. Mix well. Place about 1/3 C. of the mixture on half of a tortilla. Fold over. Repeat with the remaining 5 tortillas. Working in batches, cook quesadillas until the tortillas are golden brown and the filling is melted and heated through. Cut each quesadilla into 3-4 wedges and serve.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Frito Bean Dip

I first had this dish ay my friend Kathy's house. It's SO good. Originally it's called "Frito Bean Dip" because I think you are supposed to eat it with Frito chips. Well, it's great that way, no doubt. But, it's so good that I like to just eat it all by itself! So, whether you choose to chip it up or eat it solo, this is a delicious and MUCH healthier alternative to traditional summer side dishes. With no mayo, it can take the heat of summer parties, too.

Frito Bean Dip

1 can black eyed peas
1 can pinto beans
1 can black beans
1 can Green Giant Mexi-Corn mix
1 small can of chopped pimentos
1 small can of green chilis (diced)
1 T water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 sugar
1 tsp pepper

Drain and rise all of the beans and corn. Mix together the beans, corn, pimentos and chilies.

Boil the water, vinegar, oil, sugar, and pepper until the sugar is melted.

Add the boiled mixture to the bean mixture and let it marinate for a few hours. When you are ready to serve it, drain the liquid from the beans with a slotted spoon.

Serve with fritos, tortilla chips, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

S'more Cheesecake Bars

When an impromptu game night with friends came up, and the weather report called for rain, I was a little bummed. But, when I got to thinking about how I could bring the campfirey goodness indoors, I thought of these S'more Cheesecake Bars I had seen on Annie's Eats. They are rich and creamy (hello, cheesecake!) and really do taste like homemade s'mores. Plus, I get to use my kitchen torch and any recipe that allows me to use it immediately gets bonus points from me! But don't worry, if you don't have a kitchen torch, the marshmallows can be browned using your broiler.

These were a big hit and I had to hide away a bar for myself for leftovers :)

S'more Cheesecake Bars

For the crust:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tbsp. sugar
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup marshmallow fluff
2 tsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs

For the topping:
2 cups mini marshmallows
Milk chocolate, melted (optional)

To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line an 8×8″ baking pan with foil; spray generously with cooking spray (make sure you go all the way up the sides - I had a little issue with the marshmallows wanting to stick!). Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter in a small bowl. Stir together with a fork until well combined. Press the mixture in an even layer into the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Bake 10 minutes; transfer to a wire rack while you prepare the filling. Reduce the oven temperature to 325˚ F.

To make the filling, place the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Heat until melted and smooth, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, sour cream and marshmallow fluff. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth and well combined, 1-2 minutes. Blend in the cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and eggs until incorporated. Stir in the melted chocolate until well blended. Pour the filling over the graham cracker crust. Bake about 30 minutes, or until the center does not jiggle when shaken slightly. Remove from the oven.

Evenly top the cheesecake layer with the mini marshmallows. Return to the oven for 2-3 minutes, just long enough so the marshmallows begin to melt into each other. Transfer to a wire cooling rack. Using a kitchen torch, lightly brown the tops of the marshmallows. Once the cheesecake has cooled to room temperature, drizzle with melted milk chocolate if desired. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill 2-3 hours before slicing and serving.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Homemade Caramel Popcorn

For Father's Day (or any other holiday, really), I always try to find ways to give homemade gifts. This year, my husband had a great idea for our dads. Homemade Caramel Popcorn! They both love it and you can put it in all sorts of fun containers. We went with simple, clear canisters...much more manly, I thought.

Since caramel popcorn is normally seasonal (Halloween - Christmas) it's hard to find any that's fresh and not really expensive. After doing some research, I found a great recipe. It's simple (nearly foolproof, really) which is good considering I've had some caramel-making disasters in my past. Plus, most of the ingredients are pantry staples, so you can make it all year! The bonus is that this caramel corn tastes exactly like the gourmet, super-pricey kind you can find in specialty shops around the holidays.

Homemade Caramel Popcorn

Non-stick Cooking spray
12 C. popcorn (I used the microwavable kind - it's just about 2 bags worth of popcorn)
2 C. peanuts (optional)
1 C. packed brown sugar
1/2 C. corn syrup (light or dark)
1/2 C. (1 stick) of butter
1/2 tsp. salt, plus a pinch
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Spray a large shallow roasting pan with cooking spray. Combine popcorn and nuts (if using) and set aside.

In a heavy 2 quart sauce pan mix brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and 1/2 tsp. of salt. Stir constantly and bring to a boil over medium heat. Without stirring, boil for 5 minutes. Remove sauce pan from eat, stir in vanilla and baking soda.

Pour the syrup over popcorn (and nuts), making sure to coat each piece. The caramel hardness pretty fast, so make sure to move quickly as you pour and mix!

Bake in 250 degree oven for 60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, let cool, and break popcorn apart.

Package in cute containers to give away as gifts - or just eat it all yourself...hey, I don't judge!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sugar Cookie Bars

Every once in a while, I find a recipe that I just have to make IMMEDIATELY. This is one of those recipes. I found this recipe and knew that I had to try seemed too good to be true! Sugar cookies that are fast and easy but still taste delicious? Yep...these are that good. The cookie base is wonderful and I will definitely use them for cut-outs soon.

My only hesitation is the frosting. While it's smooth, buttery, and delicious, it's also very soft...not too great for transporting. So, I would recommend using this recipe for when you have to make treats that can either be served out of the pan, or arranged nicely at home - transporting these without messing up the frosting would be too tricky!

**Note: After writing this post, I went ahead and tried storing some bars in the fridge. After chilling, the butter in the cookies does harden up. If you needed or wanted to transfer these, you could cut them into squares, refrigerate or freeze them and stack them in a container to bring to your party. But, make sure you unpack them while they are still cold, otherwise you will still end up with soft frosting that sticks!

Sugar Cookie Bars
makes about 4 dozen bars

For the cookie bars:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (you can substitute an additional 1 tsp. of vanilla extract, but I recommend the vanilla bean if you can!)
Zest from 1 lemon
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda

For the frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. lemon extract (here you can substitute any flavor you like - almond would be really nice too)
Pinch of salt
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
5 tbsp. milk
Food coloring (optional)
Sprinkles (optional)

To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Grease a 13 x 18″ rimmed baking sheet (mine was 12 x 17″). Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until light and smooth, about 2 minutes. Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla, seeds from the vanilla bean, and lemon zest. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking soda. Stir together with a fork to blend. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl and beat on low speed just until incorporated.

Transfer the cookie dough to the prepared baking sheet and press into an even layer. Bake 10-15 minutes, until light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Blend in the vanilla and lemon extracts, salt, and confectioner's sugar until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Mix in the milk. Tint as desired with food coloring. Spread over the cookie in the pan, decorate with sprinkles, cut into bars, and serve.

Adapted from Annie's Eats

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cranberry-Orange Scones

This is another recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) geniuses. They have many, many scone variations so I decided to use what I had on hand to make my first scones! What’s great about these is you can use any mix-ins you have. Plus, you can freeze the scones instead of baking them right away and have warm, bakery style scones whenever you want them!

I chose the cream scones as a base because I wanted a creamy, yet flaky breakfast (or any time of the day, really) treat. Then, I also decided to do the “cakey scone” variation. This adds an egg and slightly reduces the butter and cream. I loved the overall texture and cakey-ness of the scones. They would have turned out much more biscuit-like had I not gone this route.

Also, I loved how easy shaping these scones were. Using the cake pan and pressing the dough to form a disk made cutting perfect scones so simple! They look really impressive but are truly simple to pull together.

Cranberry-Orange Scones

2 C. all purpose flour
1 T. baking poweder
3 T. sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 tsp. salt
4 T. very cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 C. dried cranberries
3/4 C. heavy cream, plus more for brushing – about 1 Tb.
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. orange zest
Juice from 1 orange

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Zest an orange and set aside 1 tsp. to use later. Place cranberries in a small bowl. Juice the orange over the cranberries and allow them to plump up while you work.

Place the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process with six 1-second pulses, until combined. Sprinkle the orange zest and butter evenly over the dry ingredients. Process with twelve 1-second pulses.

Drain the cranberries. Add them to the food processor bowl and pulse together with one quick pulse. Stir in the egg and heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork until the dough begins to form, about 30 seconds.

Transfer the dough and any remaining dry flour bits to a countertop that has been lightly dusted with flour. Knead the dough by hand just until it comes together – do not over knead!

Lightly dust an 8-inch cake pan. Press the dough evenly into the cake pan. Turn the dough out on to the countertop. (You should have a nice, flat, and even disk to work with!) Cut into 8 equal wedges. (At this point you can flash freeze the wedges in the freezer for 20 minutes. Then put them in a ziplock bag and freeze until needed).

Place wedges on a lightly greased baking sheet. Brush the tops of the scones with heavy cream. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until the tops are light brown. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes (ATK recommends truly letting the scones sit for the 10 minutes. It firms them up and improves their overall texture).

Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy with coffee or tea!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Chicken Cordon Bleu

With this recipe, I was more excited about the methods used (buttery, crunchy homemade bread crumbs and a great way to stuff chicken), but even better was that the end result was really, really tastey.

This recipe came from the creators of America's Test Kitchen (ATK). Basically, these people do all of the experimenting, testing, and tweaking of recipes that the average home cook doesn't have the time or energy to do. Many times their recipes are a bit more complicated, but I have yet to make something that wasn't as good as they'd promised.

This chicken is no different. From the crunchy, buttery crust to the ingenious way of stuffing the chicken, I was really happy with this recipe. I love that instead of pounding chicken breasts, rolling them up, and stuffing them with a million toothpicks - the smarty pantses over at ATK realized you could just cut a deep pocket in each chicken breast and stuff it full of yummy goodness. This method could definitely create a brand new recipe with your own creative stuffing ideas.

If you're looking for a classic "go-to" chicken recipe that's easy to make and almost fool-proof, then here you go. :)

Chicken Cordon Bleu

25 Ritz crackers - about 3/4 of a sleeve
4 slices hearty sandwhich bread
6 T. butter, melted
8 thin slices deli ham (ATK recommends Black Forest Ham...I couldn't find that and used maple brown sugar ham and it was still amazing! Just use what you can find)
2 C. shredded swiss cheese
4 boneless chicken breasts
3 eggs
2 T Dijon mustard
1 C all-purpose flour

To make the bread crumbs, adjust the oven racks to lowest and middle positions and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Pulse crackers and bread in food processor until coarsely ground. Drizzle in butter and pulse to incorporate. Bake crumbs on a rimmed baking sheets on the middle rack, stirring occasionally, untl light brown - 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a shallow dish. Leave the oven on.

Top each ham slice with 1/4 cup of swiss cheese and roll tightly. Set aside. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. Cut a deep pocket into the thickest part of the chicken breast and stuff with 2 ham-and-cheese rolls. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover with plastic wrap and refridgerate at least 20 minutes.

Beat eggs and mustard in a second shallow dish. Place flour in a third shallow dish. One at a time, coat the stuffed chicken breasts lightly with flour, then into the egg mixture, and dredge in the bread crumbs - pressing to adhere. (Breaded chicken can be refridgerated, covered, for one day if you'd like to make it ahead) Transfer chicken to a clean baking sheet. Bake on the lowest rack until the bottom of the chicken is golden brown - about 10 minutes. Then move the baking sheet to the middle rack and continue to bake until the chicken is golden brown and the internal temperature registeres 160 degrees - about 20 minutes.

Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let the chicken rest about 5 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Summer Ribs

These ribs were my first attempt and I am so happy with the way they turned out! Using a combination of low and slow in the oven (to make them fall-off-the-bone tender) and grilling (to give them nice browning and a crispy crust) made the ribs incredible! Instead of marinating the ribs in liquid, a dry rub is used to infuse the meat with flavor and provide a delicious crust on the outside.
For the dry rub, you can add in any seasonings you like. I always use red pepper (cayenne), garlic powder, and black pepper. However, sometimes I will add in thyme, oregano, or any other herbs that sound good that day! The important thing to remember is to stick to the 3:2:1 ratio in any combination. 3 parts sugar, 2 parts salt, 1 part seasoning. Plus, this isn't an exact science, so "a little of this, a little of that" works fine! I also have a few different dry rubs if you look under "Spice Rubs" on the left sidebar. Any of these would work great!

The cooking liquid was a bit of an experiment, but it worked great! Typically, water is used, but I always try to find more ways to infuse more flavor. Plus, I didn't want my ribs to have a "boiled" or watery taste. Using Dr. Pepper was a risk, but it's what I had on hand and thought it would add a nice sweet-smokey flavor. It's what really made them great - so have faith in me and give it a try!

Summer Ribs

2 full racks of pork ribs, silver skin removed

Dry Rub:
3 parts brown sugar and white sugar
2 parts salt
1part seasonings - I used garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and black pepper

Cooking liquid:
1/2 C. Dr. Pepper
1 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. Worchestershire
1 T. honey
2 cloves garlic, minced

In a small bowl, combine desired dry rub ingredients and set aside.

Using the foil, create a foil packet for each rib rack.

Place the ribs on the foil. Take the ribs and flip them over. Using a knife to help get started, tear away the membrane on the underside of the ribs (silver skin) and discard. Rub and massage the dry rub into the ribs. Seal the ribs in the foil packet and let them sit in the fridge at least a few hours or overnight (the longer the better!).

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. In a small sauce pan, combine the cooking liquid ingredients. Heat until combined and the honey is dissolved in the liquid. Place the rib packets on a baking sheet (to catch any liquid). Carefully open one end of each rib packet. Divide the liquid among the packets and reseal. Bake at 250 degrees for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Remove the ribs from the packets and place on a preheated grill until you get nice grill marks and the ribs are heated through. Brush with any excess cooking liquid. Top with your favorite bbq sauce and enjoy!

Lemon Chess Pie

My dad came across a recipe for Lemon Chess Pie. I had never heard of it, but loving lemon like I do, I really wanted to try it. With simple ingredients and using only 1 bowl to make, it seemed too good to be true. What's really unique and interesting is the addition of the cornmeal. You can't taste it in the pie, but it gives a great texture and when it floats to the top as it bakes, it creates a slight crust which is delicious!
This pie comes together quickly and is really amazing. It is lemony and sweet, but still slightly tart. It reminds me of a mix between a lemon merangue pie (but MUCH easier and faster to make) and lemon squares. This pie is slightly loose and will sink just a bit as it cools, so don't be alarmed!

A fun fact about this pie is why it's called "Chess Pie." Many people think that because it's an old Southern favorite, "Chess Pie" is the result of a Southern accent. When the man of the house would come home and ask what's for dessert, the woman of the house would say "Jus' pie" ("just pie") which then became "Chess Pie." In reality, pies used to be stored in pie chests and so "Chest Pie" eventually because "Chess Pie." (But I think "Jus' Pie" is so cute!)

Lemon Chess Pie
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon fine yellow cornmeal
4 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice with pulp
1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell

In a large bowl combine the sugar, flour and cornmeal. Blend well, then add the eggs and combine well. Add the milk and mix then stir in the melted butter, lemon zest, and juice. Pour this filling into the crust and cover then edge of the crust with foil to prevent it from burning, taking care not to touch the filling. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes, removing the foil after 30 minutes, or until the top is medium brown and the center is set. Cool and serve or refrigerate overnight. Top with powdered sugar or whipped cream and enjoy!