Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I Should Have Been Born Italian

I love Italian food! My favorite foods are pizza and pasta - so you'll be seeing a lot of that on my blog. I was looking for a new recipe that would make a lot of food for leftovers, while trying something new. After searching many different recipes on various sites baked ziti for I became quite confused - there are many different variations for this dish - some including cottage cheese, sour cream, etc. I'm not a fan of cottage cheese, and sour cream didn't seem all that appetizing.

I came across two recipes from two separate blogs from the the wonderful ladies at the What's Cooking Board and I liked elements of both of them. I took the sauce from Sugar & Spice and some of the ingredients and preparation from Amber's Delectable Delights. It turned out soooo yummy - my hubby and his friend gave it rave reviews and took some for lunch the next day. I will post the ingredients and prep that I used, which I altered slightly, but to see the original ingredients - just click on the previous links. I served this with red & green leaf salad &Italian crusty bread with homemade garlic/herb butter.

Baked Ziti

1 lb ziti pasta
1 lb ground sirloin
salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes to taste
12 oz ricotta cheese
4.5 cups spaghetti sauce (recipe below) Recipe will yield more sauce, add more to the dish if desired or reserve for another use
The cheese amounts are estimated - add more/less if desired - you could also include/substitute provolone or Italian shredded cheese blend for the following:
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
3/4 cup grated Romano cheese, divided
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 and grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 casserole dish.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, season water with salt, boil pasta till al dente; drain and set aside.

Meanwhile brown ground beef in skillet and season with desired amounts of salt, black pepper, garlic and red pepper flakes. Drain excess grease away from meats and return back to skillet.

Put a thin layer of sauce on bottom of baking dish to prevent sticking. In a large pot, mix 4 cups of sauce with meat, ricotta cheese and pasta. Pour half of the mixture into the baking dish and top with 1/2 cup Romano, 1/2 cup mozzarella , 1/4 cup Parmesean. Pour remaining noodle mixture and top with 1/2 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan, 1/4 cup Romano cheese.

Cover with tin foil and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, then remove foil and broil on low for 5 minutes if you like the cheese a little bit browned. Let set 5 minutes to cool before serving.

Spaghetti Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
2.5 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried basil
1.5 cup water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tsp sugar (or more to taste)
2 bay leaves, whole

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is tender.
Add tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, parsley, basil, water, salt, pepper, sugar and bay leaves.

Stir and bring to a boil. Stir and lower heat to a slow simmer. Cook 3-4 hours. Remove bay leaves before serving.

It's The Great Pumpkin-Cheesecake-Brownie!

As I've mentioned before, I can't bake. Now although I used to say that about cooking, my various attempts at simple things such as chocolate chip cookies (even the Pillsbury prepared dough-in-a-roll!) and boxed cake mixes (don't laugh) have turned out disastrous.

Trying to get into the Fall/Halloween spirit, I decided to make something with pumpkin for the first time. I found this recipe on a fellow Nestie's blog Cara's Cravings - it is a great/unique combination of a brownie and cheesecake, blending the flavors of chocolate and pumpkin. The thought of making one batter from scratch was daunting enough, and this recipe had two! It probably took me three times as long in prep work as supposed to, and I made a huge mess in the kitchen, but it's a miracle - it turned out looking, smelling and tasting absolutely delicious!

Pumpkin-Spice Cheesecake Brownies

Brownie Batter
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon

Cheesecake Batter
6 oz cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp flour
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp each ground ginger and ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8x8" square metal baking pan.

Beat together melted butter, sugar, and vanilla, then beat in eggs one at a time. Combine dry ingredients and then gradually stir into butter mixture with a wooden spoon. In separate bowl, beat together cheesecake batter ingredients.

Spread about 2/3 of chocolate batter into prepared pan, and spoon cheesecake batter over. Dollop remaining brownie batter over cheesecake batter. Swirl the batters together by running a butter knife back and forth through the pan.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until center is set. Cool completely on wire rack and chill before cutting and serving.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wingin' It

Chicken Wiiiings! That's the battle cry heard from my husband and his friends on Saturdays throughout the fall, and during Detroit Red Wings games, so basically year-round. Again, I don't like to eat them myself, so I have no idea how they should taste. But with a deep fryer in the cupboard gathering dust and a few sports-obsessed hungry men who want to watch the game at home rather than at Buffalo Wild Wings, I decided to give it a shot. I've been making these for about a year now, and each time I try something different, and I never seem to measure things exactly. Sooooo, the ingredients are listed as to my best estimate - but since I change things up so much and have always received great results - experiment and just wing it ;)

Sacked Wings

2 lbs chicken wings, wings cut at joint, tips discarded
3/4 cup flour
1.5 tablespoons garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste
1.5 teaspoons paprika
vegetable oil for deep frying (amount depends on size of deep fryer)
2 tbsp or more of butter or Smart Balance Light Buttery Spread
1.5 cups of favorite BBQ or Buffalo sauce (I like Sweet Baby Rays')

Combine the spices with flour and lightly toss wings in mixture. Shake off excess and repeat for all the wings, place coated wings on plate and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for
1/2-1 hour.

Remove from fridge and deep fry wings for 10-13 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large skillet melt butter and add sauce. I often divide between two skillets and make half with BBQ and half Buffalo sauce.

Drain wings on paper towels to remove excess oil, and add to the skillet(s) and cover with tin foil. Simmer on medium-low for 8 minutes.

At this point you can eat them right away if you like saucy-style wings, or especially if I am making a large amount that's too much for one batch in the deep fryer, I heat the oven on low, maybe 275, while I am simmering wings in sauce. I spray the tin foil that I used for covering the wings on stove and put the wings wrapped loosely in foil and on a baking sheet for not more than ten minutes. The sauce will now be have a more baked-on texture rather than saucy.

I hardly ever make the wings the exact same way. I experiment with different spices - cayenne, chili powder, onion powder, garlic salt, etc depending on what sauce I am using. So depending on how many wings you are making, or how thin you like the sauce, etc you can easily adjust the amount butter, flour, spices & sauce.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Taste of Hawaii

I am not a fan of seafood, however my husband loves it. On our honeymoon trip to Hawaii, he had some delicious glazed salmon, and requested that I try to replicate it. I did not measure the ingredients exactly, and I only made it for one portion of salmon. I served it with brown rice and steamed vegetables, seasoned with some pineapple juice, minced garlic and soy sauce. Overall, a pretty healthy and fairly quick meal!

Aloha! Glazed Salmon

1 salmon fillet
2 tablespoons pineapple juice
3 tbsps soy sauce
1 tbsp honey

2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
3 tbsps honey
2 tbsps pineapple juice
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp dried ginger
1 tbsp cornstarch plus 1 tsp water

Combine above ingredients with the exception of cornstarch and water. In another bowl, mix the remaining ingredients.

In a separate bowl, whisk the marinade ingredients in dish and place salmon fillet skin side up, cover and refrigerate for 25 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 and spray broiler pan with non-stick spray.

Mix glaze ingredients and heat in saucepan on low, stirring often till bubbly. Add cornstarch mixture and stir till thickened, keep on low, it will get really thick.

Remove salmon from fridge, and place on broiler pan skin side down. Bake for 10 minutes. Baste salmon with glaze halfway through baking. After 10 minutes, remove salmon, turn broiler on low, baste again and return to oven. Broil for 6-8 minutes or cook till salmon flakes easily with a fork. Remove and brush with glaze if desired. Serve with rice and vegetables.

Fall Has Arrived

I love French Onion Soup! It's much too heavy for the warmer months, however as soon as it starts getting colder in October, it's the perfect time to bring back French Onion Soup. I've tried several different versions of this soup, and this one is one of the best. It's Tyler Florence's French Onion Soup recipe from The Food Network. I made a few changes in italics. I served this with a Caesar salad.

French Onion Soup

1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves chopped
2 bay leaves
2 fresh thyme sprigs (I used 1/4 tsp dried thyme)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup red wine, about 1/2 bottle (3/4 cup merlot)
3 heaping tablespoons all-purpose flour (2 tbsp flour)
2 quarts beef broth
1 baguette, sliced
1/2 pound grated Gruyere (1 slice swiss, 1 slice provolone cheese and a sprinkle of parmesan)

Melt the stick of butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and salt and pepper and cook until the onions are very soft and caramelized, about 25 minutes.

Add the wine, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the wine has evaporated and the onions are dry, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Dust the onions with the flour and give them a stir.

Turn the heat down to medium low so the flour doesn't burn, and cook for 10 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Now add the beef broth, bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

When you're ready to eat, preheat the broiler. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle the slices with the Gruyere (or swiss/provolone/parmesan) and broil until bubbly and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Ladle the soup in bowls and float several of the Gruyere croutons on top.
Alternative method: Ladle the soup into bowls, top each with 2 slices of bread and top with cheese. Put the bowls into the oven to toast the bread and melt the cheese.

Soup's On

One of my favorite sites for recipes is Cooking Light Cooking Light. I'm trying to cook healthier, and I love this recipe. I made some changes that I think make it even better, both healthier & tastier, and are indicated in italics. I also served this with a greek salad.

Tomato-and-White Bean Soup

2 tsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onions (3/4 cup chopped onions)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 (14.5 oz) cans of no-salt added whole tomatoes, undrained and coarsley chopped
2 (16 oz) cannellini beans (1 can of beans)
1 (14.5 oz) can fat-free chicken broth (32 oz ff chicken broth)
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3/4 tsp dried oregano (1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano)
1/4 tsp pepper (1/4 tsp salt also)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
I added 1/4 cup ditalini (soup noodles) and 1/2 package of frozen/thawed spinach

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, saute 4 minutes or till tender.

Add tomatoes and next 5 ingredients (tomatoes through pepper) and bring to a boil. Add spinach and noodles, if desired.

Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with cheese.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Comfort Food

I discovered Garlic Cheddar Chicken from Allrecipes over a year ago. It's one of my favorite ways to make chicken - it's moist, has a great cheese flavor, without being gooey. I paired it with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes (allrecipes) and Oven Roasted Green Beans from The Food Network. Simple, easy, and sooooo yummy! Changes I made are indicated in italics.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

1 medium head garlic 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 tablespoons butter, softened Reduced to 2 tbsp
1/2 cup milk (I use low fat) salt and pepper to taste
I added 1/4 fat free sour cream, 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Drizzle garlic with olive oil, then wrap in aluminum foil. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes, and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, cool and chop. Stir in butter, milk, salt and pepper.

Remove the garlic from the oven, and cut in half. Squeeze the softened cloves into the potatoes.
Blend potatoes with an electric mixer until desired consistency is achieved. Add sour cream and chives.

Oven Roasted Green Beans

1 1/2 pounds green beans 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Trim the ends of the green beans and add to a large bowl.
Toss with the extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out evenly on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Roast, stirring once halfway through, until lightly caramelized and crisp tender, 12 to 15 minutes.

Garlic Cheddar Chicken

1/2 cup butter 4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup dry bread crumbs 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese 1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt 8 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - pounded thin
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, and cook the garlic until tender, about 5 minutes.

In a shallow bowl, mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Cheddar cheese, parsley, oregano, pepper, and salt.
Dip each chicken breast in the garlic butter to coat, then press into the bread crumb mixture. Arrange the coated chicken breasts in a 9x13 inch baking dish. Drizzle with any remaining butter and top with any remaining bread crumb mixture.

Bake 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear. I added 2 tbsp shredded cheddar with ten minutes left.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Not Your Regular Quesadillas

My husband loves BBQ chicken quesadillas from restaurants so I thought I would try and recreate it at home. I didn't really measure the ingredients and kind of improvised, but here is approximately what I used. This made two quesadillas.

Jamie's Favorite BBQ Chicken Quesadillas
2 chicken breasts, cubed
1 1/2 cups mexican style shredded cheese (or 2% milk cheddar) or more if you like it cheesier
3/4 - 1 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce - I used Sweet Baby Rays Honey BBQ
1/4 cup chopped red onions
oil or non-stick spray
4 (8 or 10-inch tortillas)
1 tbsp of butter, divided
garlic salt & pepper to taste
fat free sour cream

Season chicken with garlic salt and pepper. Grill or brown chicken on medium heat till almost cooked through. Add onions and cook till soft. If grilling onions, keep them in sliced and chop when done.

Add BBQ sauce to chicken and onions and heat through. Remove from stove. Meanwhile heat another skillet and add 1/2 tbsp of butter.

Layer two tortillas with about 1/4 - 1/2 cup of cheese , then chicken mixture, a little more bbq sauce(if desired) then more cheese and a tortilla.

Place in skillet on med-high heat and cook till golden approx. 3-4 minutes, then (carefully!) flip to cook other side.

Cut in quarters and serve with sour cream, salsa and extra bbq sauce.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Chinese takeout - at home!

I love Chinese food, but can't usually eat at restaurants because of the MSG. I've discovered this recipe on the Nest's What's Cooking message board, as well as from Amber's Blog. It always turns out great! I always make a little extra sauce, since that's the way Jamie likes it. I switch up the veggies that I serve with it, broccoli also goes well with this dish. I served it with Organic Brown Rice from Trader Joe's - makes prep time quick & easy. Changes I made are in italics.

Sesame Chicken with Snow Peas, Carrots & Brown Rice

1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. toasted sesame seeds, divided
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
1.5 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 package chicken breast strips, cut into chunks
8 tbsp. teriyaki sauce
6 tbsp. honey
oil for frying
sliced baby carrots & snow peas

In a large Ziploc bag, combine flour, 1/4 c. sesame seeds, black pepper, red pepper and Chinese spice. Place chicken in bag and shake to coat.

Heat oil in large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Place chicken into skillet and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side.
Remove chicken from skillet and empty excess oil from pan. Reduce heat to low and return chicken to skillet.

Mix in teriyaki sauce, honey and 1/4 c. sesame seeds, and stir until sauce thickens. I stir fried snow peas & carrots for 5 minutes and then added to chicken mixture. Serve over brown rice.