Thursday, February 13, 2014

Chicken Cacciatore with Mushrooms & Bell Pepper

Here's another winner from Kate at Our Best Bites!  I don't think I've ever had a dud recipe from there, and this Chicken Cacciatore was extremely good.  Like, serve it to company good.  I can definitely see why this recipe is a lifelong favorite of Kate's.  It's just perfect- the chicken, bell pepper, and mushrooms are right at home in the robust, rather spicy, wine tinged, velvety tomato sauce.  A keeper for sure!

My version of this is a tiny bit different from the original.  Used more chicken (actually 1 3/4 lb, but I'm freakishly picky about fat and stuff on meat and lost about 1/4 lb when I was cutting it off), divied up the pepper a little bit differently, and the recipe suggested using more mushrooms if you love them, which we do.  The big change, though, is that I did not cook this in the slow cooker.  I was afraid the chicken would get dried out since the pieces are so small and you brown it on the stove first.  The internet told me that chicken cacciatore is often just simmered over low heat for an hour, so that's the route I decided to take and it worked out smashingly.

We had this over spaghetti, but right as the spaghetti was finishing cooking, my husband came home with a spaghetti squash and I think the leftovers will be wonderful with it.

Chicken Cacciatore

6 T olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 C white wine (not cooking wine, it's very salty and just gross)
1 1/2 C chicken broth
6 oz can tomato paste
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 t dried marjoram
1/4 t dried thyme
1/4 C flour
1 t salt
3/4 t pepper
1 1/2 lbs chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite sized pieces (I actually used 1 3/4 lbs)
1 bay leaf
2 C sliced mushrooms (about 5 ounces by weight)
1 green bell pepper, sliced

Brown onion in 2 Tbsp of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  When onion is almost done, add garlic and cook until golden.  Remove skillet from burner and spoon the onion and garlic into a blender.  Add tomato paste, wine, chicken broth, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, marjoram, and thyme to blender and blend until completely smooth.

Place flour, 1 tsp salt, and 3/4 tsp pepper in a gallon sized Ziploc bag and shake to mix.  Add the chicken and shake until it's evenly coated. Place the remaining 4 Tbsp oil in the skillet and heat over medium-high.  Add chicken and any excess flour and cook, stirring frequently, until browned (does not need to be cooked through).

Add blended sauce to the chicken in the skillet along with the bayleaf, mushrooms, and bell pepper.  Cover skillet and cook at a low simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally.  The chicken, mushrooms, and bell pepper should be cooked through and tender.

Serve cacciatore over pasta, spaghetti squash, or steamed broccoli with a bit of parmesan on top.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Garlicky Bacon & Cheddar Stuffed Burgers with Avocado

Tonight's dinner was originally going to be Chicken Cacciatore (a recipe that I'll share later if it turns out well), but right when I was about to put the ingredients in the slow cooker, I came upon some photos of a cheese stuffed burger called a Juicy Lucy.  The Juicy Lucy (or Jucy Lucy, if you prefer) is a cheese stuffed burger from Minneapolis.  Burgers aren't usually my favorite thing, but for whatever reason, a cheese stuffed one sounded perfect today!  When looking for a recipe, I decided to combine two of them:  the idea of adding bacon came from Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice, the burger recipe itself came from this one on AllRecipes, and I used cheddar, lots of garlic, and served the burgers with avocado on top because I felt like it!

I'm happy to say that the burgers turned out awesome.  Sadly, all of mine did end up leaking cheese a bit (really seal those edges!), but the burgers don't seem to have suffered for it at all and the leaked cheese kind of cooked onto the bottom of the burgers.  My husband and I both agreed that this burger is better than just a bacon cheeseburger.  No issues with the bacon falling off the burger this way, and the cheddar was super melty and stretchy instead of just half melted on top..  The avocado was also a perfect, creamy addition.  Tomato and lettuce would have been nice on top, but the burgers were so thick already that they would have been impossible to eat!  Instead, we had a salad on the side.

Sorry if the half gnawed burger looks unappealing, I wanted to show the inside but didn't want to cut my burger in half!

Garlicky Bacon & Cheddar Stuffed Burgers with Avocado
1 T vegetable oil
4 slices sharp cheddar
6 slices bacon
2 T dried minced onion
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 1/4 lb ground beef
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
hamburger buns and whatever condiments you like (we did ketchup, mustard, and mayo)
Fold each slice of cheese in half, then in half again so each slice ends up as a little stack of 4 small pieces.  Cook and crumble the bacon. 

Mix together meat, onion, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, just until well combined.  Divide meat mixture into quarters, then form each quarter into 2 equal sized balls.  Working with one burger's worth of meat at a time, flatten the two balls into uniform patties, each about 5 inches in diameter.  Place a quarter of the crumbled bacon into the center, then top with one of the folded stacks of cheese.  Top with the other patty and firmly pinch together the edges of the two patties.  Repeat process with the rest of the meat.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high, and when the pan is hot, add the burgers.  Cook until browned on one side, then flip them over and poke the center in a few places with a toothpick.  This will help release steam inside the burger and help prevent the cheese from gushing out while the burgers cook.  Cook the burger on the second side until the internal temperature of one of the burgers is 160 degrees, then remove them to a paper towel lined plate.

Let the burgers sit for a few minutes before serving because the cheese inside is very hot.  Serve on toasted buns topped with avocado slices and whatever else you'd like.

Yield: 4 burgers

Sunday, February 9, 2014


Somehow or other I came upon the recipe for Carmelitas on the Lulu the Baker blog a couple of weeks ago.  I look at a lot of recipes, but sometimes there's one that I must make immediately!  Hop over there to check out the pictures, don't the Carmelitas look amazing?  They look so good that I sent the recipe to my mom, and it turns out she's been making them since she was in high school in the late 1960s!  Apparently Carmelitas won a Pillsbury Bake Off competition back then.  How in the world I've made it to 28 years old without having a) eaten ones my mom made, and b) even having heard of them, is a complete mystery.  That had to be remedied at once!  I'm not a football fan at all, but figured the Super Bowl was a good excuse to make them.

I followed Lulu the Baker's recipe exactly, except doubled the recipe.  My husband and I had pretty high hopes for the Carmelitas, and let me tell ya- they did not disappoint!  So much gooey, creamy caramel.  So much chocolate!  Delicious oatmeal cookie base!  They are truly divine.  I sent my husband to a Super Bowl party with most of the Carmelitas, where they were promptly gobbled up.

Quick Note:  I have included vanilla extract as an optional ingredient.  The recipe I followed had no vanilla, but I feel it would be an excellent addition.  Also, next time I'm going to try cutting the cream back to 1/2 cup.  As amazing as the caramel is, I like my caramel to have a bit of a chewy quality and this did not.  It was perfectly gooey and thick and wonderful, I'm just really curious about how the Carmelitas would taste with less cream in the caramel!  Will update this post if/when I ever get around to making them that way.  They're quite perfect as is though so I'm not sure how much I can improve on perfection.


1 1/2 C butter, melted
1 1/2 C packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
2 C quick oats
2 C flour
2 tsp baking soda
12 oz bag semisweet chocolate chips
18 oz soft caramel candies (I used Werther's brand, the store was out of Kraft)
1 C heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 inch baking dish.  Place the butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract, oats, flour and baking soda into a medium mixing bowl and stir until combined.  Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking dish.  Bake until the base is golden, about 15 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and top evenly with chocolate chips.

Place caramel and cream into a medium sauce pan and heat over medium, stirring frequently, until completely smooth.  Pour evenly over cookie base.  Evenly sprinkle the remaining cookie dough over the caramel and return the baking dish to the oven.  Bake until the top is golden, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Let bars cool completely (about 12 hours) before cutting, it takes quite a while for the caramel to cool down, for the cookie base to solidify properly, and for the flavors of the chocolate and caramel to meld nicely.  You can speed up the process by sticking the pan in the refrigerator, just be sure to let it sit out for about half an hour before attempting to cut up the bars.

Yield:  About 16 to 24 servings, depending on how small you cut the bars.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Creamy Salsa Dressing

When we were teenagers, my cousin and I loved a bagged salad kit that had a salsa dressing, so one day I experimented in my mom's kitchen and ended up with this dressing.  I've been making it for about 12 years now and finally measured the ingredients tonight.  It's a snap to make, and everyone I've served it to has really enjoyed it.  I've made it with countless types of salsa over the years (green salsa is great, too) and it's always fantastic.  The directions are really just a guideline and how much you need of each ingredient will depend on what salsa you use.  For example, some salsas result in a thinner dressing.  You can just add more sour cream if it's too thin for you.
This dressing is great made into a side salad with lettuce, tomatoes, a sprinkle of cheese, and some crushed tortilla chips, or you can make it into a dinner salad by also adding cooked taco meat, sliced olives, and sliced avocado.  Whatever you want, really.  We always love having taco salad!  It's also good drizzled over grilled chicken or in turkey wraps.  You can even use cream cheese instead of sour cream and make a dip.

Creamy Salsa Dressing

3/4 C of your favorite salsa
1/2 C sour cream
1 Tbsp lime juice
1/2 tsp cumin
salt to taste (I used 1/2 tsp but the amount will depend on the salsa and your preferences)
Puree all ingredients in a food processor, blender, or with an immersion blender.  Taste it and add more of any of the ingredients if you think it needs it.  The dressing will stay good in the refrigerator for about a week.
Yield: 1 1/4 C, about 6 to 10 servings depending on the size of your salads

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ina Fridays: Mac & Cheese

*First of all, please forgive me if the spacing in this post and recent posts is crazy.  Blogger seems to be spazzing out and keeps changing my spacing in already published posts.  How I have it right now looks fine in Firefox and Internet Explorer on my computer, but I'm not sure how it looks on others*

I've joined a new cooking group!  This is a small group that prepares an Ina Garten recipe once a month.  There are guidelines for the type of recipe each month (such as main dish or appetizer), but other than that, we're free to pick whatever recipe we want.  I'm quite fond of Ina Garten's recipes and a couple of them I've been making for half my life (like Rosemary Roasted Carrots and Parker's Split Pea Soup), so am excited at the prospect of trying a new one of my choice each month.  The fact that I can choose which recipe to make is very nice since I can either choose something that fits my dietary requirements, or else pick something to make as a special treat. 

This month's assignment was a main dish recipe.  It only took about 3 minutes of digging through recipes on the Food Network website to find Ina Garten's recipe for macaroni and cheese.  What better first recipe to make for a mac and cheese devotee like myself?  I haven't cooked a pasta dish since September, so was pretty excited to make this! 

The recipe was quite easy to make, not any more complicated than other baked mac and cheeses.  I'd never used gruyere, tomatoes, or fresh bread crumbs in mac and cheese and was curious to try them out.  The only thing I changed about the recipe was to cut it in half so we wouldn't have tons of leftovers.  It ended up making a good amount anyway! 

The recipe came together very well and looked great, but I was a bit nervous when I tasted it before sticking it in the oven.  I have an extremely low tolerance for processed cheese/Velveeta, and to my surprise, the sauce had a processed cheese taste and texture.  It gave me the "Velveeta shudder", never good! 

Luckily, it was much better after the stint in the oven, and I ended up enjoying the mac and cheese pretty well.  I think my gruyere was to blame.  There were two varieties to pick from at the store, one was $10 a pound and the other $20.  I really didn't want to spend $10 on a little hunk of cheese, so picked the less expensive one, which was softer.  When I tasted it before grating it, it actually tasted like American cheese to me rather than gruyere!  Now I really want to make it again with the firmer, pricier gruyere in spite of the cost, because I'm sure it will taste better.

The verdict:  Cheese issues aside, this was a really nice mac and cheese, creamy with good flavor.  I didn't need to adjust the seasonings or amount of milk or cheese at all.  The sauce was pretty darn thick, but I wonder how it would be with the better gruyere.  I personally enjoyed the tomatoes on top and the fresh, buttered bread crumbs were really nice.  My husband picked off his tomatoes but thought the bread crumbs were fine, which is a first for him- he usually does not like bread crumbs on pasta.  He rated it 6 stars out of 10, but was raving over it as he ate and had two servings.  I think he'd actually give it a higher rating except that he's extremely devoted to my "signature" mac and cheese recipe (the one the blog was named after, and that he rates "9,000" stars) and was stubbornly opposed to me even making this one.

All in all, this is definitely a mac and cheese worth making if you want something a little different!  My one suggestion would be to buy good gruyere.

Ina Garten's Mac & Cheese

8 oz cavatappi or macaroni
4 T butter, divided
1/4 C flour
2 C milk
1/2 Tbsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
8 oz gruyere (by weight), grated
4 oz cheddar (by weight), grated
1-2 small tomatoes, halved and sliced thinly
2-3 slices bread, crust removed and made into crumbs in the food processor

Preheat oven to 375 and grease a 2 quart baking dish.  Boil pasta in lightly salted water until tender, and drain.  Make the sauce while the pasta cooks.  Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour until smooth.  Cook and whisk for another minute or so, then whisk in the milk in small additions of about 1/4 cup each, making sure sauce is completely smooth before you add more milk.  Cook sauce, whisking frequently, until thickened, then about a minute more.  Remove pan from heat (this is important so the cheese doesn't get gritty), and whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg, then whisk in the cheese a handful at a time until smooth. 

Stir the sauce into the cooked pasta and spoon into the greased baking dish.  Top with the sliced tomatoes.  Melt remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and mix it with the bread crumbs, then sprinkle it evenly over the pasta and tomatoes.  Bake until the crumbs are golden and the sauce is bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes.

Yield:  About 6 main dish servings (I halved the recipe which supposedly would make 3 servings, but those would be truly gigantic servings!)

Here's a list of the other bloggers that participate in Ina Fridays!
Chaya at Bizzy Bakes sadly lost her daughter recently.  Chaya, my heart goes out to you and your family!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pork, Mushroom, & Cabbage Stir Fry

For some reason, I've never had a lot of luck with stir frys.  They seem to turn out average at best.  There are actually only two stir fry recipes that we enjoyed enough for me to want to make them again!  This is one of them.  It's so good that I'd actually be happy to be served it at a restaurant!  It has nice flavor (not sweet at all like many), is spicy from the pepper flakes, and is just all around really enjoyable.  Be warned that it just makes enough sauce to coat the stir fry without much left over for rice.  We didn't eat ours with rice so that was no problem, but I supposed you could double the sauce ingredients (except maybe the pepper flakes) if you want more sauce for rice.

I found the original recipe at A Sweet Life and have altered it a little bit.  The main change is I increased the amount of pork and eliminated the scrambled eggs.  When I made it, I did use the eggs, but for some reason they ended up seeming like an odd addition and we'd prefer it without.

As for the cooking temperature, it depends on the stove since some are hotter than others.  For the cabbage and mushrooms, you'll want to cook it at a high enough temperature so the veggies get browned in places without going limp, but of course you don't want them to burn!

Also, sorry, no photo- it turned out hideous looking, but you can check out the photo at the link above!

Pork, Mushroom, & Cabbage Stir Fry

2 Tbsp sesame seeds
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 lb pork tenderloin, cut into bite sized pieces
1 small cabbage, cored and chopped into 2 inch pieces
2 portobello mushrooms, cut into quarters and sliced (this was 1/2 lb)
salt to taste

for the sauce:
1/3 C water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium and add sesame seeds.  Cook and stir frequently until seeds are lightly toasted, about 3 minutes.  Remove seeds to a small bowl.  Add a tablespoon of the vegetable oil to the skillet, raise heat to medium-high, and add pork.  Salt to taste.  Stir fry until pork is browned and cooked through, then place it in a large bowl.  Add another half tablespoon of oil to the skillet and add cabbage, plus salt to taste.  Stir fry until tender.  Add to bowl with the pork.  Add remaining half tablespoon of oil to the skillet as well as the mushrooms and salt to taste.  Stir fry until soft.

Add the cabbage and pork back to the skillet and cook until heated through.  While everything's heating up, stir up the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.  Pour into skillet and stir fry until sauce has thickened and turned clear, about two minutes.  Serve over rice if you'd like and top with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.  Fresh fruit goes great on the side!

Yield: 6 to 8 servings