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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Believe the hype

I was yet again the recipient of a wonderful recipe through our latest swap.  The theme was desserts and Lisa from Lisa's Cooking Adventures submitted a fantastic Red Velvet Cake recipe from Joy of Baking.  Since I was going to my brother's house for a party this past weekend, I figured I'd kill two birds with one stone and bake it to bring there, but in cupcake form.

Here's a confession -  I don't really get the hoopla everyone makes over red velvet.  So many people I know are practically obsessed with it.  On my list of favorite cakes, I honestly don't even think it makes the top 10...even 15.  True story.

This recipe, however, may have changed my mind...just a little bit.  The cake was super moist, but what really pulled it all together was the frosting recipe.  Mascarpone AND cream cheese?  Uh, yeah, sign me up. 

If you're a chocolate lover like me, consider throwing some mini chocolate chips on top.  They add a little something special :)  

Thanks for the recipe, Lisa...red velvet was not on my radar, but I'm glad I made these...and so were my brother's guests!

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Mascarpone Cream Cheese Frosting
Slightly adapted from Lisa's Cooking Adventures, as seen on Joy of Baking

2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons regular or Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons liquid red food coloring
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 8 ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 8 ounce tub Mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 1/2 cups heavy cream 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare 24 cupcake tins with liners.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, salt and cocoa powder, and set aside.  Beat the butter in an electric mixer until soft, about 1-2 minutes.   Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.   Scrape down the bowl, then add vanilla and beat until combined.  

In a measuring cup, whisk the buttermilk with the red food coloring.  With mixer on low, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour.  

In a small cup combine vinegar and baking soda. Allow mixture to fizz, then quickly fold into cake batter.  Fill each cupcake 3/4 of the way.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in a cupcake comes out clean.

For the frosting:  Beat cream cheese and mascarpone in a mixer until smooth. Add vanilla and confectioners sugar and beat until smooth. Gradually add the heavy cream and whip until frosting is thick enough to spread. Add more sugar or cream as needed to get the right consistency.

Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.  Sprinkle with mini chocolate chips.

Linked to: Sweets For A Saturday
                Sweet Treats Thursday

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Finger lickin' good

Those of you who are fans of my Facebook page may remember me raving about this product.  We grilled chicken a few weeks ago at my sister's house and marinated the chicken in it for a while first.  Frank found the chicken to be tough to grill that way...the outside was burning a little bit before the meat was cooking.

So, we tried again at home this week, this time basting the chicken while it was on the grill.  He said it was easier to cook, and I said it was just as delicious.

For what it's worth, I'm not getting paid to say this stuff, or getting any free loot out of the deal.  I'm just letting you know my opinion about a great product you should add to your grilling repertoire this summer.  You'll need to use it generously, so stock up!

Grilled Sweet Chili Chicken
6 chicken thighs (or whatever parts you like)
1/2 bottle Frank's Sweet Chili sauce

Heat grill to medium high.  Place chicken on grill and cook for about 15 minutes (or as long as it takes to cook one side, depending on what parts you're using).

Turn and baste with sauce, cook for another 10 minutes (again, depending on parts), then turn again and baste other side.  Cook for about 5 more minutes.  Serve.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

"Sure, what can I bring?"

I'm sure you've asked that question many times after receiving countless invitations to barbecues, especially before a holiday weekend.  Isn't it great to have several go-to recipes that you're comfortable with, so you can fulfill the host's request without stressing out?  Plus, you usually want something that won't go rancid if it sits in the sun for a few hours.

I love the cole slaw recipe I recently added to my blog, but I wanted to have another in my arsenal that didn't include mayonnaise.  Once again, Bobby Flay came to the rescue.  This version is light, tasty and mayo-free, so no need to worry when it's sitting out on the picnic table.  

Just in time for the upcoming holiday weekend!  You're welcome :)

Cole Slaw with Cumin-Lime Vinaigrette
slightly adapted from Bobby Flay

For the vinaigrette:
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 dashes hot sauce
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

1 bag coleslaw mix
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Pour in vinaigrette and toss until combined.  Chill until ready to serve.

Serves 6-8.

Linked to: Sensational Sunday

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Throwing it together

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I have many meals that I pretty much just throw together.  Meals where I survey my kitchen and its inventory, and come up with something that uses ingredients up while making a nice combination. This is one of them.

I've been raving about Trader Joe's chicken sausage a lot - this is another use for the andouille that I used in my paella.  It's a quick and easy dish where ingredients can be substituted based on what you have.  You can use any kind of sausage, add peppers, use sweet potatoes instead of white, add beans, or broccoli rabe - the sky's the limit!

Skillet Sausage & Potatoes
4 links chicken andouille sausage (Trader Joe's), cut into bite size chunks
3 small potatoes, sliced in thin rounds
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 scallion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

Heat oil in a large skillet, add onion, and cook until translucent.  Add sausage and potatoes, followed by seasonings.  Cook until meat is hot and potatoes are tender.  At the last minute, add scallion and toss through over the heat for about 30 seconds.

Serves 3-4.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Too warm for comfort?

We've had a TON of rain lately.  Yesterday ended up being a beautiful day but before that, it was doom and gloom for quite some time.  So, there was lots of comfort food being cooked up over here...dishes that wouldn't normally be gracing our table in mid May.

I came up with this recipe several years ago and love it.  It's much different from the way my Mom made meatloaf while we were growing up...which was also delicious, but not as healthy.  I love how moist this stays (even though it's turkey) because of the spinach.  And the cheese really adds a little something special to it.

I've shared this with many friends through the years and it always gets rave reviews.  Now if I could only get Bella to eat it...

Melissa's Turkey Meatloaf
1 1/4 pounds ground turkey
1 egg
1 cup shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, cooked and WELL drained

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray, or use a 9x13 pan for a free-form meatloaf.

Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix until just combined.  Do not overhandle.  Place in pan and bake for approximately 55 minutes, or until browned.  

Serves 4.
WW Points+ per serving = 8

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Short cuts (What's Baking)

Go ahead and judge me, but there are times when the prepared cake/cookie mix is the only way to get it done.  You know it's true.  Don't deny.

I always keep some in my house, just incase.  And honestly, it rarely lets me down.

These were delicious and couldn't be ANY easier!   They're great for dessert, or even in the morning with your coffee or tea.  One little square is enough to satisfy your sweet tooth.

For this month's What's Baking challenge, Cara from The Boys Made Me Do It chose the theme "Something For Mother's Day".  Although I didn't bake these for Mother's Day, I know that my Mom would have enjoyed them.  I know I did, and I'm a Mom, so that counts for something :)

Raspberry Streusel Bars
from Betty Crocker

1 pouch sugar cookie mix
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons AP flour
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam (I used Trader Joe's reduced sugar variety)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat an 8x8 pan with cooking spray.

In a bowl, combine cookie mix, butter, flour, almond extract and egg until dough forms.  Press half the dough into bottom of pan and bake for 15 minutes.  Spread jam on top of dough, then crumble the rest of the dough over it and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Let cool completely before cuttting into bars.

Linked to:  Sweet Tooth Friday

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Fun stuff

Ah, chicken.  I think I've mentioned once or twice how much I love it, haven't I?  The possibilities are endless...especially when you're looking for ways to use up ingredients that you have.

In this case, I had some ricotta that I wanted to use before it went bad.  Stuffed chicken to the rescue!  I've made this several times and it's always been a hit.

This is another recipe that works with pretty much anything you have on hand.  Try it with different veggies, cheese, or even meats like prosciutto or pepperoni.  It's simple enough for a weeknight meal or impressive enough for guests.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts
3 chicken breasts
1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
1/2 cup baby spinach leaves
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
extra virgin olive oil

Depending on what your chicken looks like, you can follow this recipe one of two ways...

-if it's thin, put the stuffing on top, roll it up and close with toothpicks
-if it's thick, butterfly it so there's a pocket in the middle, fill with stuffing, and secure with toothpicks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Put ricotta in a bowl and add sundried tomatoes, egg, garlic powder and basil.  Mix until combined.

Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Place spinach leaves on top of chicken, then add stuffing.  Secure with toothpicks and place chicken in a baking pan sprayed with cooking spray.

Drizzle chicken with oil and bake for 45 minutes.

Serves 3.
WW Points+ per serving = approximately 10

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Still swapping

Our theme this week was vegetarian dishes and I received this recipe from Melissa at Lemons & Love.  This soup is delicious and is perfect for a quick, easy and filling meal.  I made it for myself for lunch, since (as you all know by now) Frank doesn't eat beans.  I really enjoyed it!

There were a few ingredients missing in Melissa's recipe description so I added them into my very slight adaptation below.  I halved the recipe since I was the only one eating (enough for 2).  And of course, I had to add chopped red onion to mine :)

Thanks for the recipe, Melissa!

Black Bean & Salsa Soup
from Lemons & Love

2 cans black beans (15 ounces each), drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup chunky salsa
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
hot sauce (at your discretion...I used a good amount)
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, diced red onion

In a food processor or blender, combine beans, broth, salsa, paprika, hot sauce and cumin. Blend until fairly smooth.  Heat the bean mixture in a saucepan over medium heat until thoroughly heated. 

Garnish with sour cream, onion and shredded cheese.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

More from Mexico

I love the versatility of Mexican dishes.  It's easy to tweak the recipes so that they can be made healthier, yet still taste delicious.  This is one of those dishes.  It's from Weight Watchers so I didn't even have to get that creative on my own.

If I were making this just for myself, I would have added beans.  I think they would add a nice little something extra to the dish.  Either way, try it...and have it with the polenta.  Mexican isn't always about rice!

Mexican Beef Over Polenta
from Weight Watchers

1 pound ground beef, extra lean (7% fat)
1 small onion, chopped
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained (reserve 1 tablespoon of liquid)
1 can yellow corn, drained
15 Kalamata olives, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped jalapeno peppers
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup polenta, quick cooking
3 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup salsa
1/3 cup shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese
1 scallion, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook beef and onion, stirring frequently, until meat is fully cooked, about 5 to 7 minutes; drain off any liquid. Stir in tomatoes and reserved liquid, corn, olives, jalapenos, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, cumin and pepper; simmer 5 minutes to allow flavors to blend.

Meanwhile, in a small pot, combine cornmeal, broth and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt; stir well. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until cornmeal is thick, about 5 minutes.

Spoon polenta onto a large serving plate and top with beef mixture. Top with salsa, cheese, cilantro and scallions.

Serves 6.
WW Points+ per serving = 7

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Nice knowing you all!

So, Saturday is D-day, right?  The end of the world as we know it?  Well then, what will you be eating for your "last supper"?

It would actually be pretty ironic if it WERE true.  You see, I'll be spending Saturday with my sister, sis-in-law, cousins and best friend having a "day of beauty" at a high-end department store that I won back in December for myself and 9 of my friends.  Lunch, a Dior makeover, personal shopping consultations...the works...followed by dinner and drinks.  (I also won a kick ass basket full of designer perfumes...Gucci, Prada, Burberry and more...retail value was close to $1000!)  Woohoo!

The irony here is that I never win ANYTHING, so of course, this Rapture could potentially rain on my prize parade.  Believe me, if it'll happen to anyone...eh, whatever.  We'll be having a blast and looking beautiful while we do it.

So, no Rapture Party at my house (yes, I've been hearing about this all day on Facebook and Twitter - people are hosting parties to celebrate our demise!)...but if I were staying home, I'd stock up on some wine and put together something that looks like this:

The delectable antipasto platter.

Now of course, this can vary, but I wanted to give you an idea of what a great one should consist of and look like.  This was a last minute There are a few other items I normally have on the platter (hot cherry peppers stuffed with provolone and prosciutto, for example), but this is a pretty good representation.

I had a separate bowl filled with assorted imported olives.  Olives are imperative - don't forget about them!

Counter-clockwise from the top:
Parmigiano reggiano
Sundried tomatoes (packed in oil)
Baby artichokes (packed in oil)
Ricotta salata
Red seedless grapes
Italian bread

There you have it - my last supper (okay, I'd probably sneak a bowl of pasta in there, too).  Just keep the wine flowing and everything will be alright :)

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When I dip, you dip, we dip

I'm always looking for new ideas when it comes to cold dips, especially this time of year.  My ol' reliable is my 7 Layer Dip, but as most of my loyal readers know, I like my variety :)  So, I created this and brought it with us to see friends who invited us over.

This the Greek version of my 7 Layer Dip.  It's just as easy to make, but brings a whole new flavor combination to the table.  I built it around leftover tzatziki that I had in the fridge.  I think hummus would be fine in place of it, if that's what you have on hand.

It's great served with pita chips (very easy to make yourself!), tortilla chips, potato chips or vegetables.  Give it a whirl at your next party, or when you're on appetizer duty at the next barbecue you're attending.

Mediterranean Layer Dip
1 cup tzatziki
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tomato, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
3/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
2 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled fat free feta
2 tablespoons oregano

Mix tzatziki and cream cheese together, and spread it over the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate or dish.  Add remaining ingredients evenly on top and top with oregano.  Chill before serving.

Linked to: Dip Blog Hop

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Greek King of Pasta

What are your go-to dishes for company?  Do you find yourself always making the same few things?  Read on...

This is by far one of my favorite dishes.  If the first course for Sunday dinner isn't lasagna or macaroni with meat sauce, it's this.  And it's GOOD.  

The creaminess of the bechamel along with the tanginess of the tomatoes is just an amazing combination.  Add to that your typical Greek flavors and you have a wonderful baked pasta dish, perfect for a dinner party or for an intimate dinner for two.

You can make this more of a casserole by using long pasta, or as seen here with a shorter shape.  Either way it's great - just a matter of personal preference.

I've been eating this for as long as I can remember...it brings back lots of memories for me.  It's true comfort on a plate.  Please try this soon - you'll be crowned a Greek goddess by anyone you serve it to :)

from Mom

1 1/2 pounds macaroni (pastitsio #2 or bucatini...penne can also be used)
1 cup butter
2 eggs, separated
1 3/4 pounds ground lamb (can substitute beef)
1/2 pound kefalotiri or parmesan cheese, grated
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and stewed OR 1 tablespoon tomato paste, diluted with 1 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
1 piece of cinnamon stick
1 cup bread crumbs
1 recipe Bechamel sauce (see below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Parboil macaroni in salted water for 6 minutes, drain.  Brown half the butter and pour over macaroni.  Beat egg whites (reserve yolks) and add to macaroni.  Sprinkle with half the cheese.  Brown remaining butter (but keep 2 T. aside to use later) with the chipped meat and onion. 
Add the wine, tomatoes, salt, pepper and cinnamon, and simmer until all liquid is absorbed.  Remove from heat, remove the cinnamon, and add half of the remaining cheese and half the bread crumbs.  Mix well.
Prepare the bechamel.  Butter a pan and sprinkle with bread crumbs.  Spread half the macaroni evenly, cover with chopped meat.  Add remaining macaroni.  Pour bechamel over the top.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese, then with the rest of the bread crumbs.  Drizzle remaining butter over the top. 
Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.  

Serves 6-8.

Bechamel sauce:
6 tablespoons butter
7-8 tablespoons flour
4 cups milk, scalded
1-2 egg yolks
salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter but do not brown.  Add flour slowly, mixing constantly.  Remove from heat.  Slowly mix in scalded milk.  Return to heat and stir until sauce thickens.  Beat egg yolks well, and add them with salt and pepper to the mixture, stirring constantly until blended.  If you don't serve this immediately, stir it occasionally to prevent a crust from forming.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Sides for your supper

Happy National Barbecue Day!  Now that it's barbecue season, people are always looking for sides to serve when they host, or to take along when they go elsewhere.  Here are two that I've been making for years.  

Macaroni salad is my absolute favorite!  As usual, I use Dreamfield pasta to minimize the guilt.  As for the cole slaw recipe, I played around with Bobby Flay's recipe for a while to lighten it up, and came up with a version that tastes great and is more figure friendly.

They're both easy to prepare and transport, and feed a good sized crowd (though you should double the cole slaw recipe in that case)  These are perfect accompaniments for burgers, hot dogs, chicken, pork...you name it.  Make them your go-to sides for the summer!

Melissa's Macaroni Salad
1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked, drained and cooled
1/2 cup celery, chopped

1/2 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1/2 cup pimento stuffed green olives, sliced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon celery seed

Mix macaroni, celery, onions, bell pepper and green olives together in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl mix together the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, relish, sugar, salt, pepper and celery seed, stirring well.

Stir dressing into the macaroni mixture.  Serve chilled.

Serves 8-10.

Creamy Cole Slaw
adapted from Bobby Flay

1/2 bag cole slaw mix
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons light sour cream
2 tablespoons grated onion (or 3 chopped scallions)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons celery seed
salt and pepper to taste

Put cole slaw mix in a bowl.  Whisk together remaining ingredients and add to the cole slaw mix.  Combine and add more salt, pepper and/or sugar, if desired.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Breakfast love

Thanks to everyone who sent well wishes regarding my dad and sister's surgeries.  The transplant took place a week ago today, and the patients have been home recuperating since the weekend.  The rest of us have been pitching in to help keep the ship running smoothly, getting my nieces to and from where they need to be, and of course - feeding everyone.

I made this the day before Mother's Day and left it for my sister, brother-in-law, nieces and mom to enjoy that morning (Dad didn't get discharged until later that day).  Unfortunately, I didn't get to taste the goods, but I got several raves from all the guinea pigs!

The cinnamon raisin bread just adds to the awesomeness that is overnight french toast :)  Make it...SOON!

Cinnamon Raisin Cream Cheese French Toast
slightly adapted from food. com

24 slices cinnamon raisin bread (I left the crusts on - the original recipe says to trim them)
6 eggs
4 cups half & half
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
dash of nutmeg

For the filling:
16 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar

Lightly butter a 3 quart pan (or similar) and cover the bottom with bread.  In a bowl, combine 6 eggs, half & half, 1 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla.  Pour half of the mixture over the bread.

In another bowl, whisk cream cheese and remaining vanilla, eggs and sugar.  Mix until smooth and creamy.  Spread mixture over bread.

Cover the contents of the pan with the rest of the bread, followed by the remaining egg mixture.  Sprinkle with nutmeg.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Bake for approximately 60 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.  Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Daring Cooks: Chicken & Sausage Gumbo

I still can't believe I've never been to New Orleans.  And if you know me, you probably are wondering the same thing.  Must.schedule.SOON!  The food alone is worth the trip.  I could eat Cajun cuisine every day.

Frank and I had our first date at Oddfellows, one of my favorite restaurants in Hoboken.  I completely admit I had many-a-first-date there, as well as plenty of fun nights out with the girls, and a few too many evenings with waaaaay too many hurricanes.  But the main reason I love it so much is the food.  It's delicious, it's cheap, and it's Cajun.  Just like our gumbo was tonight.

I was happy to see that Denise from There's a Newf in My Soup chose gumbo for this month's Daring Cooks challenge...I never made it before and as I mentioned above, I love anything Cajun.  I waited until tonight to make it (yep, today's the deadline!) because I knew a group of us would be together for dinner...we're still caring for my dad and sister who are recovering from their surgeries at my sister's house.  You have to cook this meal for a crowd - it's just better that way.

The original recipe comes from John Besh and it doesn't disappoint.  One thing I did differently was use the Trader Joe's chicken andouille sausage that I've raved about here before (I've used it in my paella) - there is zero sacrifice in taste and it's so much better for you.  Try it out - you'll love it, I promise.

I would also recommend using a little more chicken - I ended up with lots of "juice" leftover but the chicken disappeared fast (I used 8 thighs).  The original recipe calls for about 10 pieces, so I was short, unfortunately...but I think even a bit more than they recommend would be good.  You could use more sausage, too...I used 2 packages, which is 8 links.

The roux is the most important part of this dish.  DO NOT abandon it!  Watch it like a baby.  Don't be intimidated - just follow the directions and all will be right in the world :)

Keep this recipe in mind the next time you have a casual get-together, a crowd for the big game, or a nice cool night where you just want to kick back with great food and some beers.  It's that kind of meal.

Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

Chicken & Sausage Gumbo
adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook - by John Besh

1 cup canola oil
1 cup flour
2 large onions, diced
1 chicken (3 ½ to 4 lbs.), cut into 10 pieces
2 tablespoons Creole spice blend
2 pounds spicy smoked sausage, sliced ½ inch thick
2 stalks celery, diced
2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme
3 quarts chicken stock
2 bay leaves
2 cups sliced fresh okra, ½ -inch thick slices (or frozen, if fresh is not available)
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
White rice

Season the chicken with the creole spice and set aside.  Cut vegetables in advance, before beginning the roux, and set aside.

In a large stockpot, add oil over high heat.  Once it's hot, add flour and lower heat to medium.  Using a whisk, stir constantly for about 15 minutes.  The roux should become a brown color.  Once that happens, add the onions and reduce heat to medium-low.  Stir with a wooden spoon constantly for about 10 minutes, until it becomes a glossy dark brown.

Turn the heat back up to medium and add the chicken.  Cook until brown (turn once), about 10 minutes.  Add sausage, stir, and cook another minute.  Add celery, peppers, garlic and tomato and stir, cooking for another 3 minutes.

Add the thyme, stock and bay leaves.  Bring gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add okra, worcestershire, salt, pepper and tabasco and stir.  Simmer for another 45 minutes.  Skim fat a few times while cooking.  Remove bay leaves and serve over rice.

Serves 10-12.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Rain, rain, go away...

We've got about a week of rain coming up in the forecast.  Can't complain after the GORGEOUS week we just had, but it's still a bummer...especially when your 2 1/2 year old daughter just wants to "go out in the sunshine".  Cute :)

One of the things I crave during rainy weather, even when it's warmer, is soup.  I made this for my sister after she came home from the hospital.  It came together very easily and was a big hit!  Many of the ingredients can be subbed based on what you like and/or have, but this combination was delicious.  

By the way, this was definitely a lot less soupy than I expected...almost more of a "stoup", as much as I hate using that term :)

Beef Minestrone Soup

1/2 cup medium uncooked pasta shells
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) beef broth
1 package (16 ounces) frozen mixed vegetables
1 can (16 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
3 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon pepper

While pasta is cooking, cook beef and onion over in a dutch oven until meat is no longer pink.  Drain.

Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes.  Drain pasta and add to the pan.  Simmer for about another 5 minutes.  

Serves 6.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A burger that'll keep you in your jeans

This burger definitely falls under the healthy category - a must for BBQs this summer if you're counting calories.  The recipe came from one of the swaps I participate in, and I have to say, I was a little skeptical about it at first.

I knew that the zucchini would give the turkey meat an even softer texture than it already had...combine that with the fact that there was no bread, and I got nervous.  Then, I formed the burgers and really got worried.  They were super soft...so soft that I was afraid they'd break while on the grill.

Well, not only did they stay together...they were delicious!  I topped them with swiss cheese, and of course I had a nice big slice of onion on mine :)

Zucchini Turkey Burgers
from Whitney (recipe swap participant)

1 lb. lean ground turkey
1 egg
1 zucchini, grated
1 teaspoon hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients and form into patties.  DO NOT overhandle meat, as it will already be delicate.  Cook on grill over high heat.
Makes 4 burgers.

WW Points+ per burger = 5

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

No need for the oven

Frank and I have discussed grilling pizza before but hadn't done it until now, when I received Christina's recipe in our weekly swap.  That's motivation enough!  Did I cheat by making this indoors?  I don't think so.  We'll do it the "legit" way soon...this just happened to be the way it worked out last night.

I bought my pizza dough (gasp!) at Trader Joe's when I was there yesterday (shocker).  I went for the garlic herb dough for a little change of pace.  We loved it.  One pizza had pepperoni, onions and mushrooms...the other - grilled chicken, sundried tomatoes and pesto (both had mozzarella cheese).

Try grilling your pizza next time - you won't be disappointed!

Grilled Pizza
adapted from Tales from the Mad Men Kitchen

1 batch pizza dough
extra virgin olive oil
pizza toppings of your choice (be sure all are chopped/prepared ahead of time!)

Heat grill to medium.  Divide dough in half and stretch (using bench flour) evenly.  Brush oil on one side and place on grill.

Once dough is cooked/bubbling on the one side, flip with tongs or a spatula.  Immediately brush oil on the new side and place toppings on it.  Cook until cheese has melted.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Laughing all the way to the scale

I usually try to find ways to lighten up dishes...especially rich, creamy ones laden with fat from cream, butter or any of those other heavy ingredients we all know and love.  If you want to eat dishes like this more than once in a blue moon, you need to come up with a healthy alternative.

Have you ever made sauce from it?  It's like magic.  It replaces so much of the "bad stuff", as you'll see in the recipe below.  You can use any of the flavors they have...this time around I used their light blue cheese wedge.  Yum.

I created this sauce for a pasta dish I made with shrimp, broccoli and grape tomatoes...but any protein or veggies would do.  It was delicious, and guilt free!  So keep your eyes wide open when you hit the scale :)

Creamy Blue Cheese Sauce (guilt-free!)
1 tablespoon butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon flour
1 1/2 cups skim milk
3 wedges Laughing Cow blue cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until it just reaches a boil.  Add to your favorite pasta/veggie/protein combination.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Happy Mother's Day in advance!

I hope all the Moms enjoy their day tomorrow, and the Dads and kids spoil them rotten :)  Don't forget to make Mom a nice breakfast in bed...here's a quick list if you need a few ideas:

Crustless Quiche

Baked French Toast with Maple & Praline


 Bacon, Egg & Bread Cups

Or, for a nice sweet treat - Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Enjoy your special day, mommies! :)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Sweets for Mom - and one last reminder!

What desserts remind you of springtime?  Most people would say lemony ones.  And I agree.

One of my favorite desserts to make is lemon bars.  They're a crowd pleaser, and a little goes a long way...one small bar is like a big burst of springtime in your mouth.  Plus, they're pretty! :)  It's such a simple and easy sweet treat to make, and the ingredients are usually on hand.

Make these for your Mom this weekend - she'll love you even more than she does today.

And of course, one last reminder - please check out the goodies up for auction on Bloggers Bake For Hope and bid before Midnight tonight.  Get some sweet treats delivered right to your doorstep while helping a GREAT cause!

Lemon Bars
from Allrecipes

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups AP flour, divided
4 eggs
2 lemons, juiced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl, blend butter, 2 cups flour and 1/2 cup sugar.  Press mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 9x13 pan.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

In another bowl, combine remaining flour and sugar.  Whisk in eggs and lemon juice.  Pour over the baked crust.  Bake for another 20 minutes.

Cut when cooled completely and sprinkle confectioners' sugar on top.

Linked to: Sweets For A Saturday

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

A light lunch - and a reminder (Bloggers Bake For Hope)

You know I hate waste.  So when I roast chicken and have some leftover, I need to do something with it besides throw it in the trash.  Now that grilling season is here, I suspect the same will happen with chicken on the BBQ.

Here's a quick and easy way to jazz up a potentially boring sandwich.  Try subbing grapes in for the apple, or almonds for the walnuts...yum!  You could even serve this on lettuce wraps or in a cored apple.  Do what you like!

And don't forget, bidding for Bloggers Bake For Hope ends tomorrow (Friday) - check out all the delicious goodies being auctioned off!  Again, all proceeds will go to Susan G. Komen - a wonderful cause.  Thanks to those who have already participated for your generosity!

Chicken Salad with Apples & Walnuts
1 chicken breast (or dark meat - really, whatever you have leftover and/or prefer), skinned and shredded
1/2 apple (any type you like), chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix.  Taste as you go along and adjust condiments and spices to your liking.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

One more for Cinco de Mayo - and Bloggers Bake For Hope Reminder!

Here's another dinner idea for tomorrow, incase you get caught with nothing to make at the last minute, or if you only have chips in the house.  I made this after I promised my husband burritos, then realized I had no tortillas.  I also had no time.  Oops!  Time to get creative.

I promise you - it tastes much better than it looks.  And the salsa - mmmmm.

Pair it with a margarita or two!

REMINDER:  Bid on your favorite baked goods TODAY!!  From now until Friday, auctioning will take place on sweet treats donated by food bloggers for Bloggers Bake For Hope.  All proceeds will go to Susan G. Komen affiliates.

Help support this great cause and bid NOW!  My Hidden Kisses are up for grabs, as are lots of other delicious goodies.

Cheater's Chicken Enchilada Casserole
2 chicken breasts, diced
cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, salt - all to taste
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups crushed tortilla chips
1 small can chilis
1/2 red onion, diced
1 can black olives, chopped
1 10 oz can enchilada sauce
1 package shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a skillet, heat oil.  Coat chicken with spices and saute until cooked.  Set aside.

In a 9x9 pan, layer chips, chicken, sauce, onion, chilis, cheese and olives.  Cook for about 15 minutes.  Serve with sour cream, guacamole and salsa.

Avocado Mango Salsa
3 avocados, diced
1 mango, diced
cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeno, diced
1/2 lime, juiced
pinch of salt
1/4 cup red onion, diced

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until serving.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The other white meat

A pretty common question that I'm asked is, "what should I do with pork chops?"  To me, it's like asking what to do with chicken breasts - they're so versatile and easy to make many, many different ways.  The sky's the limit!

Recently we tried these and really enjoyed them.  Even though they're baked in the oven, I feel like they're a lighter, summery way to make pork chops...maybe because of the lemony flavor.  I served them with roasted asparagus and couscous (with chopped tomatoes and scallions mixed in).  Yum.

This is a nice change of pace from the popular baked parmesan variety.  They're also good for you - only 7 Weight Watchers Points+ each!

Lemon Basil Pork Chops
from Taste of Home

1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon dried basil
4 boneless pork chops (6 oz. each)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Coat a 13x9 baking dish with cooking spray.

Combine egg and lemon juice in a shallow dish, and bread crumbs, butter, lemon peel and basil in another.  Dip pork in egg mixture followed by breading.  Place in prepared baking dish and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until juices run clear.

Serves 4
WW Points+ per serving = 7

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Your Cinco de Mayo plans?

Who's got big plans for Thursday?  Back in the day, Cinco de Mayo was always a fun day/night out that included great Mexican food, mucho margaritas and a tequila shot thrown in here and there.  Good times.

This year, I'll be at the hospital waiting for my sister and father to get out of surgery.  Dad has a viral kidney disease that forced him to have his first transplant back in 1999.  My Mom happened to be a match so she donated, and unfortunately, the virus has attacked that kidney to the point where he now needs another.  That's where my sister comes in.  We're hoping this one lasts at least another 12 years before the next one is needed...our family is starting to run out of kidneys! ;)

At least I know that if I get home and want to make a snack to put me in the Mexican mood, I can whip this together really fast.  I've been making this longer than I can remember - it's a great dish to bring to parties, especially when the weather is warmer since it's served cold.

I'm sure I'll be in need of a few tequila shots, too.

7 Layer Dip
1 can fat free refried beans
1 container light sour cream
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
5 scallions, chopped
2 large tomatoes, "guts" removed, chopped
3 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed, chopped (or 1 cup jarred jalapeno slices, chopped)
1 can black olives, chopped
1 (8 oz) package shredded light cheddar cheese

Cover the bottom of a 9x13 glass pan evenly with refried beans.  Mix sour cream, chili powder and cumin together, and spread evenly on top of the beans.

Finish off with the remainder of the toppings in whatever order you like.  Chill for at least an hour before serving with tortilla chips.

***You can use different toppings, spices or another type of pan/serving dish...just adjust measurements accordingly***

Linked to: Bean Blog Hop

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