Saturday, June 27, 2015

Basil Orzo Salad

Most people understandably are under the impression that it's cold (or at least chilly) in Alaska all the time, but we can have pretty warm summers.  So far this summer, we've had a lot of days in the mid to upper 80s.  Night doesn't offer much relief since the sun doesn't actually really go down, and I don't know anyone around here with air conditioning in their home.  It's usually actually cooler outside than inside.  It's also so far been a very fiery summer, at the moment there are nearly 200 separate wildfires burning in Alaska and it's very smoky out.  As a result of all the heat and smoke, we've been wanting to eat a lot of cold foods, which means I've been making a lot of pasta salad.  
This is my slight twist on a recipe I found on the blog Mel's Kitchen Cafe.  It's one of those recipes that I saw, then made that night after a quick trip to the grocery store.  I served it as a side dish (along with fresh raspberries) for Peperoncini Beef Sandwiches, and it was a very good dinner.  It also keeps well in the refrigerator, as long as you keep the tomatoes and spinach separate!

Basil Orzo Salad
12 oz orzo
chicken broth
1/3 C olive oil
1/4 C white vinegar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp honey
1/4 C pesto, or enough to give it a bit of a basil flavor
2 C cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 C green onions, sliced thinly
1 C feta cheese
about 4 C baby spinach, torn into pieces
salt and pepper to taste
Bring chicken broth to a boil and add a little salt.  Stir in orzo and cook over medium-high heat until al dente, stirring occasionally.  Drain thoroughly, but do not rinse.  Stir in oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and pesto, then chill pasta.  Stir in cherry tomatoes, green onions, feta, spinach, and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve cold.  If you won't be eating all the pasta salad within a couple of hours, I suggest storing the sliced tomatoes and spinach separately and stirring it into the orzo before you serve it because the spinach will wilt and the tomatoes will get soft.

Yield:  About 10 side dish servings

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Grilled Corn & Tomato Salad

I have made this salad 4 times in the past month or so.  We love grilled corn on the cob, and so far every time I have grilled this summer, I've grilled corn for us to eat immediately as well as corn to use the next day in this salad.  It's nothing fancy, but very good!

Grilled Corn & Tomato Salad
2 cobs fresh corn
olive oil
salt and pepper
10 oz (by weight) cherry tomatoes, halved
3 Tbsp sliced green onions
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, plus more to taste
1 tsp dried basil
1/8 tsp garlic powder
salt to taste
Remove the corn husks and corn silk from cobs.  Rinse corn and pat dry.  Brush all over with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill on an outdoor grill over medium heat, rotating every couple of minutes and with grill cover shut in between, until there are grill marks all over the corn and it's cooked through, about 15 minutes.  Remove corn from grill and let it sit until cool enough to handle, or wrap it in foil and refrigerate over night.
When you're ready to make the salad, cut the corn off the cobs with a serrated knife.  Place in a medium mixing bowl with the halved tomatoes and green onions, then add the rest of the ingredients.  Toss until everything's well mixed, taste, and add a little more vinegar, salt, garlic powder, or basil if you think it's needed.
I always serve half of the salad immediately, then cover the rest and serve it the next day.  It's good both ways!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Triple Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Fudge Icing

I don't use cake mixes much.  Not because I dislike them per se, it's just that I don't bake cakes that often and when I do, I usually want to make it from scratch!  This particular recipes uses a cake mix as a base, and you add a bunch of other ingredients to it, then top it with peanut butter icing.  I've made it I think 3 times over the past 5 years.  It's really very good, the chocolate cake is dense (in a nice way!), very moist, and very chocolaty because of the added chocolate chips.  I love the mini chips.  They kind of melt into the cake, adding lots of extra flavor and gooey chocolate, and stay soft.  The cake recipe is from AllRecipes, my only change is to replace half the oil with applesauce.
The peanut butter icing is from the Southern Plate blog, I changed it to use all butter instead of a mix of butter and shortening.  The icing is perfect for this cake!  It's thick, fudgy, sweet, and firms up rather than staying spreadable like regular frosting.  The chocolate and peanut butter flavors work fantastically together and neither overpowers the other.  This cake is a great choice for a peanut butter-chocolate lover!

Triple Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Fudge Icing
Chocolate Cake:
1 box devil's food cake mix (use the biggest you can find, mine was 16 oz)
6 oz box instant chocolate pudding mix
1/2 C water
1/2 C vegetable oil
1/2 C applesauce
1 C sour cream
4 eggs
12 oz bag mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 baking dish.
Mix together everything except chocolate chips until smooth, then stir in chocolate chips.  The batter will be thick.  Spread it in the prepared baking dish and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean (the chocolate chips will prevent it from being completely clean), about 45 minutes.
Allow cake to cool completely before making icing.

Peanut Butter Icing:
1 1/2 C sugar
4 Tbsp butter
7 Tbsp milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C peanut butter
Stir together sugar, butter, milk, and salt in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-high, stirring frequently, until it comes to a boil.  Set a timer for 2 minutes and let the mixture boil that entire time, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.  When the time is up, remove immediately from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and peanut butter until smooth.  Quickly spread the icing over the cooled cake, it will set up rapidly.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Cherry Rhubarb Crumble

I've mentioned this a couple of times before, but my husband and I bought our first house last August.  We've been here for 9 months now and I'm still amazed by and in love with our house.  I can't really believe it's ours!  It's nothing fancy, not very big and over 40 years old with its share of issues, but I love it anyway.  One of the many things I love about our house is the giant rhubarb plants in the yard.  I always wanted rhubarb and I definitely have it now!  All winter long I waited until I could finally make something with my rhubarb, and the rhubarb has grown an insane amount in the past 2 weeks.  This recipe needed only 4 stalks because each stalk was about 3 feet long!
During the winter, I periodically thought about what kind of rhubarb recipe I wanted to make.  I settled on something with cherries because we got a jar of amazing cherry rhubarb jam from my mother-in-law's friend.  We haven't had to buy jam in 9 years because this friend always gives us lots of jars of her wonderful creations, and the cherry rhubarb jam was really something else.

This crumble recipe came from Taste of Home and it sure didn't disappoint!  It's on the tart side for sure, but my husband and I both loved it and had seconds.  Here's to many more years of desserts with our homegrown rhubarb!
Cherry Rhubarb Crumble
4 C diced rhubarb, leaves discarded
1 C sugar
1 C water
2 Tbsp cornstarch
21 oz can cherry pie filling
1 tsp almond extract
1 C oats
1 C flour
1 C brown sugar (I used dark)
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick cold butter
Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 baking dish.
Stir together diced rhubarb, sugar, water, and cornstarch in a large saucepan until the liquid portion is smooth.  Heat over high, stirring frequently, until the liquid comes to a boil and thickens.  Remove from heat and stir in cherry pie filling and almond extract.  Pour mixture into prepared baking dish and set aside.
Stir together oats, flour, brown sugar, and salt, then cut the butter into small cubes and work it into the oat mixture until crumbly.  Sprinkle evenly over the rhubarb mixture and bake until golden on top and bubbly around the edges, 30-40 minutes.
Yield: 12 servings

Friday, June 5, 2015

Sticky Chicken

This is yet another recipe from Southern Plate.  Christy originally got it as a copycat recipe for some chicken served at Cracker Barrel.  I've never had the chicken at the restaurant (haven't even been to one since I think 1996!), but I've made this chicken probably 5 or 6 times over the past couple of years and we really enjoy it.  It really does taste like a great grilled chicken and does NOT taste like the sauce is salad dressing!  This recipe takes about 40 minutes to cook, but is pretty low effort. 

Sticky Chicken

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cleaned and cut into 8 pieces
1 C bottled Italian dressing
1 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp honey
Place chicken pieces into a gallon sized Ziploc bag and add marinade ingredients.  Seal bag and squish it around to mix up the marinade and coat the chicken.  Refrigerate from 1-8 hours.
When you're ready to cook the chicken, heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium.  Dump in the entire contents of the bag, including all the marinade.  Cook the chicken over medium, turning the pieces about every 10 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken and get sticky.  This will take about 30 minutes.  At this point, you may want to reduce the heat to low.  Continue cooking, stirring and flipping the chicken frequently, until the chicken gets browned spots on it.  Be careful not to burn the sauce.  Swipe the pieces of chicken through the thick sauce before removing to a serving plate.
Yield: 4 servings, 2 pieces of chicken each.