25 September 2013

I always get a little apple-obsessed in September.  I don't care for eating apples just as they are, out of hand, but I do like cooking with them.  Last weekend I made two apple-filled baked goods and this week I've been working apples into our dinners too.  What I love about apples is how well they work in savory applications.  They add just the right amount of texture contrast and a little bitty hint of sweetness.  I just can't get enough of the savory/sweet combo.

I love making paninis for lunch, and this is a great one for this time of year.  Smoked turkey, sweet crunchy apples, and tangy sharp cheddar are amazing together.

Turkey Apple Cheddar Panini

Two slices Italian bread or ciabatta
3-4 slices smoked turkey deli meat
4 slices sharp cheddar cheese
Peeled, cored apple, thinly sliced

Preheat panini press.  Put cheese slices on both pieces of bread.  Top one slice with turkey and the other with apples.  Put the sandwich together and butter the outside.  Place on hot panini press and cook until cheese is melted and bread is beautifully browned on the outside.

Makes 1 sandwich.

This is the best way to construct this sandwich.  Having cheese on both slices of bread makes it stay together really well.

 I like my paninis very crispy and crunchy on the outside.

Mmm, so tasty!

What are you having for lunch on this beautiful fall day?

23 September 2013

It's Monday and I have a new meatless main dish to share with you today.  I got out of my Meatless Monday habit somehow in the last several months, and have resolved to go back to it.  This is a new meatless main dish I made last week.  It's very heavily adapted from a recipe Rachael Ray made on 30 Minute Meals.  She called it Polenta Vegetable Lasagna, but I get tired of people calling any kind of layered dish a "lasagna", so I renamed my version.

Polenta Veggie Bake

1 tbsp olive oil
½ large onion, chopped
1 medium zucchini, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
2 cups baby spinach, torn
½ tsp dried thyme
Salt, to taste
2 tbsp butter
2 rounded tbsp flour
1 cup milk (plus more as needed)
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (plus more for topping)
4 cups vegetable broth
1⅓ cup quick-cooking polenta
½ cup marinara sauce, divided

For the veggies: Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Sauté onion until it begins to soften.  Add the zucchini and mushrooms, and sauté until they become slightly tender.  Season with dried thyme.  Stir in the spinach and cook just long enough for it to wilt.  Remove veggies from skillet and set aside.

For the béchamel: In the same skillet, melt the butter.  Sprinkle in the flour and cook for a few minutes over low heat.  Slowly whisk in the milk, then bring to a boil until thickened.  Stir in ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese.  Return heat to low to keep warm while you make the polenta.

For the polenta: Bring the vegetable broth to a low boil in a small saucepan. Very slowly stir in the polenta.  Whisk the polenta constantly until thickened and smooth, 2-3 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding some salt if necessary.

To assemble the dish: Preheat the broiler.  Spread ¼ cup of the marinara sauce in the bottom of a 1½ qt. broiler-safe baking dish.  On top of that, spread half of the polenta.  Then layer on half of the sautéed veggies.  Give the béchamel sauce a stir; if it has thickened up too much, stir in a little more milk until it is the right consistency.  Pour all of it over the veggies.  Top that with the remaining marinara sauce, the remaining polenta, and grate some more fresh Parmesan over the top.

Place dish under the broiler for about 5 minutes, or until Parmesan starts to brown.  Serve warm.

Makes 6 servings.

I changed Rachael's recipe a lot.  First, she made her own red sauce from scratch, but I felt this dish had enough going on without that nonsense.  I just used my favorite jarred sauce.  I only ended up using 1/2 cup of it anyway; that's definitely not worth all the work of making it from scratch.

I also added way more veggies to mine.  While she used carrots and celery in her red sauce, the only other veggie in her recipe was some frozen spinach.  I sauteed onions, zucchini, mushrooms, and fresh baby spinach.  I think the whole point of meatless meals is to pack in the veggies!

The other major difference is the way I made the polenta.  I used all vegetable broth instead of part milk and part broth, simply because of my daughter's dairy allergy.  (I made her a separate little dish with the red sauce, veggies, and polenta, leaving out the bechamel and parmesan on top.)  I also left out the fennel, as I'm not a fennel fan.

The resulting dish was really good.  I loved the combination of flavors and textures going on in this dish.  I've always enjoyed combining red sauce and white sauce, and then adding in the hearty polenta and the perfectly sauteed veggies makes it all just perfect.  

This dish is hard to photograph, and the picture at the top doesn't really show all it has going on, so here are some pics of it after we served it.

Creamy, yummy deliciousness.

I served this with garlic bread.

My husband and I loved this dish.  My kids weren't quite as thrilled with it.  Lena, my five-year-old, picked at it, and Eva, my three-year-old did not even touch the special one I made just for her.  :(  Oh well, I guess you can't win them all!

19 September 2013

It's reveal day for this month's Improv Challenge.  The premise of the Improv Challenge is easy: each month there are two assigned ingredients.  The participants must make a recipe using both ingredients and blog about it.

This month's ingredients were pasta and cheese.  So many options!  It was an easy decision for me though. I pinned a Taste of Home recipe for Garlic Parmesan Orzo a while back and it has been one of my most popular pins. I get tons of emails every day telling me all the repins it's gotten.  As of today, it's been repinned over 300 times.  So I just had to make it. I actually did make it once before, but the only orzo I could find at my local store was really weird and the dish didn't turn out right at all.  Late last month I got the chance to stop by a Trader Joes while in Milwaukee and picked up some decent orzo and gave this recipe another shot.  I'm glad I did because it was fantastic.  I made a few changes; here's my version.

Garlic Parmesan Orzo

2 cups uncooked orzo pasta
4 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, grated
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
¼ - ½ cup milk
Dried dill

Cook orzo according to package directions just until al dente; drain.

Melt butter in a large skillet.  Sauté garlic in butter until tender. Add the orzo, Parmesan cheese, and ¼ cup milk.  Stir until heated through, adding more milk until desired creaminess.  Pour orzo into a serving bowl and top with more grated Parmesan and some dried dill.

Makes 6-8 servings.

The original recipe called for a whole stick of butter, but that seemed like way too much.  I cut it in half and that was just perfect.  I used a little dried dill because it needed something green and I don't care for parsley. Fresh would have been even better, but the dried worked just fine.  I used two large cloves of garlic, and at first I didn't find the dish very garlicky.  But I noticed it later.  And the garlic was even more prominent in the leftovers.  Please make sure you use fresh Parmesan for this recipe.  I keep the green can on hand for certain things, but this is one dish that needs the real (fresh) deal.

This made the perfect side dish for some ribs and corn on the cob as one of our last summertime dinners.

Check out all the other awesome pasta and cheese recipes below and come back next month to see what I make with cake and frosting!

17 September 2013

Have you tried kale chips yet?  You probably have, as they have been quite popular for a while now.  But here's the recipe in case you haven't.  You can find recipes for kale chips on pretty much any blog and food website out there; here's how I make mine.

Kale Chips

1 large bunch kale
1 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp kosher salt, divided

Preheat oven to 400°.

Wash and dry kale thoroughly.  Cut stems off kale and chop into large pieces.  You should end up with about 7 cups or 5.5 oz.

Divide kale in half and spread it out on two large baking sheets.  Drizzle each half with half of the olive oil.  Rub the oil into the kale with your fingers to ensure even distribution.  Sprinkle with the salt.  

Bake for 10 minutes, or until kale is crispy.  

Makes 6 servings, about 1 cup each.

Nutrition Info:
Serving Size:   1 cup
Calories:   33
Fat:   2.5g
Sat. Fat:   0g
Cholesterol:   0mg
Sodium:   198mg
Potassium:   116mg
Carbs:   3g
Fiber:  .5g
Protein:   1g
Vitamin A:   80% 
Vitamin C:   52%
Calcium:   4%
Iron:   2%

Kale is so super healthy and this is a great way to eat it.  When you rub the olive oil into the leaves, they get wonderfully crispy and delicious.  It's amazing how crispy and crunchy they get.  And check out those nutrition facts!  That's a lot of nutritional bang for the calorie/fat buck.

My family loves these.  My girls can't get enough.  They work well as a snack or as a side dish with dinner.

These are Tuna Stuffins.  I'll share that recipe soon.

14 September 2013

It's time again for The Salad Bar, hosted by Wendy of The Weekend Gourmet.  

This month's theme was Asian salads.  My first thought was to make that napa cabbage salad with the toasted ramen noodles in it.  I really like it and have never made it myself, so I wanted to try it.  But then I saw a great main dish salad at Menu Musings and it sounded and looked so amazing that I had to try it.  We occasionally do salads as our main dish for an easy dinner, but they are pretty boring, consisting of bagged salad mix, chopped deli ham, boiled eggs, and cheese.  I loved the idea of branching out with main dish salads.  This one has napa cabbage, carrots, green onions, sliced almonds, flavorful ginger grilled chicken and two different kinds of sesame seeds.

Ginger Sesame Grilled Chicken Salad

¼ cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
¼ cup canola oil
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
¼ - ½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp kosher salt
4 chicken breast cutlets
¼ cup white wine vinegar
honey, if desired
1 lb. Napa cabbage, very thinly sliced
2 carrots, grated
3 green onions, thinly sliced on the bias
⅔ cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 tsp white sesame seeds
1 tsp black sesame seeds

Whisk together the soy sauce, ginger, canola oil, hoisin sauce, red pepper flakes, and salt to make the marinade/dressing.  Put the chicken breasts in a gallon sized zip-top bag and add ¼ cup of the marinade to the chicken.  Squeeze the air out of the bag so that the marinade comes into contact with the meat. Place bag in fridge and allow it to marinate at least 30 minutes, longer if you are able.  Refrigerate remaining marinade/dressing in a separate bowl.

Grill the chicken using either outdoors grill or indoors grill pan.  Cook them about 4 minutes per side or until completely cooked through.  Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and allow it to rest 15 minutes.  Then either slice them or cut them into chunks.

To the reserved marinade, whisk in the vinegar.  Taste it for seasoning, adding a bit of honey for sweetness if desired.  This is now the dressing.

In a large bowl, add the cabbage, carrots, green onions, cilantro, and almonds.  Add the chicken and toss together.  Add the dressing and the sesame seeds and toss again.

Makes 4 servings as an entrée; 6 servings as a side.

I used chicken breast cutlets, which means that I took two large chicken breasts and sliced them in half flat-wise, parallel to the counter.  This gives you four chicken breasts that are thinner and will soak up more of the marinade and will cook more evenly and faster. If I make this in the winter, I want to try cooking the chicken in the marinade in the slow cooker.  I think the flavor will infuse the chicken even better that way.  I will miss the grilled flavor on the chicken, but I think that it would still be great.

This salad is AMAZING!  The flavors are just incredible.  Ginger, hoisin sauce (which is basically an Asian barbecue sauce), and soy sauce combine to make the most flavorful dressing.  And I love how it works as the dressing and the marinade.  The original recipe called for sriracha, but that is not something I keep on hand, so I threw in some red pepper flakes instead.  I think I used 1/4 tsp and that was just perfect for us.  It gave it just a hint of heat, but not enough that my kids noticed.

The original recipe called for twice as much salt, which is fine for the marinade, but I found it to be too salty for the dressing.  I compensated by adding some honey (I forgot to write down how much. Maybe 1 tbsp?).  The honey may not be necessary since I reduced the amount of salt, so if you try this, taste it and see if you think it needs a little sweetness.

Those of you with eagle eyes might notice the lack of cilantro in the pic above.  I got it out of the fridge to add it to the salad and found it a brown gross mess, despite the fact that I bought it only a couple of days before. (I can't wait for Meijer to come to Kenosha because I haven't had the best luck with produce at the grocery stores here.)  I was very sad to leave it out as I love cilantro, but I wasn't going to run to the grocery store at the last minute just for one thing.

Even though this salad is perfect as it is, it would also be good without the chicken, either for vegetarians or if you wanted to use it as a side instead of a main dish.  You could probably cut the dressing ingredients in half if you are leaving out the chicken.

My husband is not a big salad eater, but he LOVED this salad.  Went on and on about how great it was.  We didn't eat it all at dinner that night, and I wasn't sure how well it would keep as leftovers, but I tried it anyway.  The next day the cabbage was a little softer, and the dressing was a little thinner, but it was still awesome.  My husband and I had no problem finishing off the leftovers for lunch the next day.

I am so glad that I joined this monthly salad challenge and that I discovered this awesome recipe.  I can't wait to increase my collection of main dish salads!

Check out all of the other great Asian salads below and come back next month to see what kind of Mexican salad I make.

11 September 2013

I know most everybody has got fall recipes on their minds already, but I have a couple of last minute late summer recipes still to share with you.  This one features the gorgeous garden tomato.  It's what I made for Meatless Monday this week and it was a huge hit with my family.  It's a tart with an awesome homemade garlic herb crust, melted smoked mozzarella cheese, and juicy red tomatoes.  It's kind of like a backwards pizza; with cheese as the base and topped with tomatoes.  It's slightly adapted from Annie's Eats.

Tomato Mozzarella Tart with Garlic Herb Crust

1¼ cups flour
½ tsp kosher salt
2 tsp Italian seasoning (I used Tuscan Sunset)
½ tsp garlic powder
1 stick butter, cold
¼ - ½ cup ice cold water
6 oz. fresh smoked mozzarella, sliced
Ripe cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

To make the dough, combine the flour, salt, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder in a medium bowl.  Cube the butter into small pieces and work it into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles pea-sized crumbs.  Add ¼ cup of the water and stir to incorporate.  If it’s too dry, add more water a tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a ball.  Remove the dough, flatten into a 5” disc, and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

When you are ready to bake the tart, preheat the oven to 425° .  Coat a 9” tart pan with baking spray.  Transfer the chilled dough to a lightly floured work surface and roll out into a 12” circle.  Lay the dough over the tart pan and press it into the sides.  Fold over the excess dough as needed.  Lay a piece of parchment paper loosely over the tart dough and fill the center with baking beads or dry beans.  Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and carefully remove the parchment and baking beads.  Return the empty tart shell to the oven to bake for 5 minutes more.  Remove from the oven.

Layer the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell with the sliced mozzarella.  Arrange the cherry tomato slices on top of the cheese in a single even layer.  Sprinkle with chopped basil.  Season with salt and drizzle with olive oil.  Top with freshly grated Parmesan.

Bake about 30 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned in places.  Allow the tart to rest at least 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Isn't it gorgeous?  Such a great way to showcase fresh garden tomatoes.  

Here are a few pics of the process:

 The dough ball.  This is the biggest change I made to Annie's recipe.  She used a food processor to chop up fresh garlic and basil for the crust.  I don't have a food processor that will do that, so I used dried herbs and garlic powder instead.  She also used the food processor to cut in the butter and mix in the water, but I did that by hand.  I was nervous that it wouldn't turn out as well because of my changes, but it was great.

 I shy away from recipes that require use of my rolling pin, but this one was totally worth it.

 Into the tart pan it goes.

 Annie's recipe called for regular mozzarella, but I saw this smoked mozzarella at the store and couldn't resist.  It gave it such a great flavor.  The recipe called for 8 oz., but I didn't need that much.  My five-year-old ate the rest.

 Mozzarella, tomato, and basil: classic caprese ingredients.  The tomatoes I used weren't cherry tomatoes, but I don't know what kind they were.  They weren't totally round; when I cut them vertically, the slices kind of looked like red bell peppers.  I'll have to ask the lady at church who gave them to me what kind they were.

 This is the crust after blind baking.  I didn't have baking beads and didn't feel like wasting dried beans, so I baked it without the weights.  It did puff up more than it should, probably, and the sides wanted to fold in, but overall it worked out okay.

 Layered with cheese, tomatoes, and basil.

Warm, melty, and delicious!  Annie had to wick moisture off of hers, but I didn't feel the need.  I guess it depends on what kind of tomato you use.

The crust is really good; kind of a cross between pie crust and garlic bread.  Very unique and very tasty.  

This was a huge hit with my family.  I didn't think my husband would like it that much because he's not a huge fan of tomatoes, but he totally raved about it.  My five-year-old loved it too; so much so that she asked to eat the leftovers the next day for lunch, which NEVER happens.  No matter how good a dish is, my girls always refuse to eat the leftovers the next day.  I couldn't believe it when Lena pointed to it in the fridge and asked, "Oooh, can I eat this tart for lunch?"  She ate the last two pieces.

So this dish was a real winner and a great addition to my collection of meatless main dishes.

08 September 2013

It's time for this month's Secret Recipe Club! The Secret Recipe Club is a group of food bloggers who secretly make one of someone else's dishes and post them all on the same day at the same time.  It's really fun, choosing a recipe to make, making the recipe, then reading about everyone else's recipes.  It's a great way to "meet" other bloggers and check out some great blogs that you never knew about before.

Secret Recipe Club

This month I was assigned the blog Everyday Mom.  It's written by Kim, who is a mother of three who loves to bake.  While Kim has some great desserts on her blog, I was more drawn to her savory offerings.  I liked the sound of her Chicken and Goat Cheese Polenta, and I also wanted to try her Grilled Root Beer Chicken.   But in the end, I couldn't resist choosing a more fall-style dish.  She made a Squash and Pasta dish that sounded amazing to me.   She roasted acorn squash and put that and some bacon together with pasta and a cream sauce.  I changed it just slightly by using roasted butternut squash (my favorite winter squash) and I had a half pound of Italian sausage that needed to be used up, so I used that in place of the bacon.  

Roasted Squash and Sausage Pasta

12 oz. short-cut pasta (I used mafalda)
24 oz. butternut squash, cubed
Olive oil
Kosher salt
½ large onion, chopped
½ lb. ground sage sausage
½ cup reduced sodium chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
Fresh sage, chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Boil pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°.  Place squash on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Roast in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until squash is tender and golden brown.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium skillet and sauté onion until it begins to soften.  Add sausage and cook until brown.  Drain off any grease.  

When pasta is done, drain and return to pot.  Add sausage and 3 cups of the butternut squash.  Pour in the broth and heavy cream and stir to combine.  Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if desired.  Serve immediately, garnished with fresh sage.

Makes 4 servings.

 I cheated and used pre-cut squash.  I love butternut squash, but they are the biggest pain in the butt to peel and cube!  I usually enlist my husband's help because I am such a wimp I can't even cut through the things.  I used to buy squash like this at Meijer when I lived in Michigan, and I loved it.  I happened to be in Milwaukee the day or two before I made this dish, and had to stop at Trader Joe's, so I got it there.  I roasted two of these 12 oz. packages, but didn't quite use all of it.  But one package wouldn't have been enough.  

 Roasted butternut squash is simply divine!  One of my favorite fall foods.

You can use any short cut pasta you like; this is the one I used.  I had never heard of mafalda before, but it was perfect for this dish.  

This pasta dish is so yummy!  The flavors of the roasted squash, the sausage, and the fresh sage are just amazing together and really scream "Fall!"  And I love the simplicity of the sauce; just a bit of chicken broth and cream.  Just the perfect way to dress this delightful concoction of flavors.

This dish was a hit with my family, with the exception of my three-year-old who wasn't in the mood for squash that day.  But she loved the rest of it.

Thanks for a great recipe, Kim!

05 September 2013

It's time for the second installment of my newest monthly challenge, Fill the Cookie Jar.

This month's theme was fall cookies.  So many options there.  I found lots of fall cookie recipes I wanted to try, but caramel apple cookies won out over all of them.  I got the recipe from Smashed Peas and Carrots.

Caramel Apple Cookies

½ cup butter, softened
½ cup shortening
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1½ cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 (11 oz.) package caramel baking bits

Preheat oven to 350°.  In a large bowl, cream the butter, shortening, and both sugars together.  Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well.  In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, mixing well.  Stir in the oats, apple pieces, and caramel bits. 

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a parchment- lined cookie sheet or a stoneware baking sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Let cookies cool for 2-3 minutes before removing to a cooling rack or parchment paper.  (Don’t use wax paper!)

Makes about 4 dozen.

I didn't change too much about this recipe.  The original recipe called for dried apples because the blogger thought that fresh apples "fermented" in baked goods.  Not sure what that means, but I decided to walk on the wild side and use fresh apples.  Trust me, these cookies are so good that nothing is going to have a chance to "ferment" because they will be eaten so quickly.  I also used more caramel bits than she did. There was about a half a cup left in the bag, so I just dumped the whole thing in there. ;)

Make sure you remove these cookies to parchment.  They stick like crazy.  I baked mine on stoneware, and didn't need parchment.  They came off the stoneware just fine, but I was out of parchment, so I put down wax paper and put them on there. BAD IDEA!! The caramel stuck like glue.  Luckily, I had only baked half of the cookie dough, so I put the other half in the fridge, went out and bought parchment paper, and tried again the next day.  They didn't stick to the parchment.

These are the yummiest cookies ever!  Like a caramel apple in cookie form.  I liked how the recipe called for both butter and shortening because that's how my mom makes her chocolate chip cookies and they are still my favorite.  Nice and chewy, not thin and crispy or cake-like.  I also loved how this recipe called for oats, as I love oats in cookies.  They were just perfect.

I guess this is officially my first fall recipe of the season!  I am very sorry to see summer go, but my one consolation is that I do love fall cooking.  Time to bust out the apples, maple, pecan, and best of all, pumpkin!

Check out the other fall cookies below and come back next month to see what kind of Halloween cookies I come up with.