Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hasselback Chicken aka Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Holy cannoli, this is a good recipe!  I saw it on Tasty's Facebook page yesterday and made it tonight.  I could tell from looking at it that it would be good, but how good really surprised me.  My husband and I were both crazy about it, we agreed it's something we'd be happy to be served in a restaurant.  It's also quite easy to make, but looks rather fancy.  This is definitely something I would make for guests!
As is the norm for me, I made a couple of changes.  The original recipe didn't call for garlic or salt in the spinach mixture, and you were supposed to add salt and pepper to the chicken after stuffing it.  The recipe is very simple and I thought correctly that garlic would be a really good addition.  I also chose to use both mozzarella and cheddar because I had both, and why not?  One or the other individually would be great, too!
Hasselback Chicken aka Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Chicken Breasts
4 chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 oz fresh spinach (by weight)
1 C ricotta cheese
3/4 C grated mozzarella, or to taste
1/4 C grated cheddar, or to taste
spanish style paprika to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and use aluminum foil to line a baking dish that has sides.  Lightly grease the foil.  
Clean the chicken breasts and make several deep cuts (not all the way through!) 1 centimeter apart on top of the chicken breasts, accordion style.  Place the chicken breasts in the baking dish.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium and add garlic, saute until it begins to turn golden.  Add spinach and saute until it wilts.  Add ricotta and stir until well combined with the spinach.  Add salt to taste.
Spoon the spinach ricotta mixture into the cuts on the chicken breasts.  Top with the mozzarella and cheddar, then sprinkle with a bit of paprika.
Bake chicken until a thermometer inserted into the center of the largest piece registers 160 degrees.  Let chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Yield: 4 servings

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Creamy Orange Jell-o Mold

Ah, the Jell-o mold!  So weird looking, so full of weird ingredients!  Jell-o molds have always intrigued me, but many of them have ingredients I'd prefer to avoid.  I found a recipe for Under the Sea Jell-o on the Joys of Jell-o blog, which thankfully does NOT feature fish or anything ocean based.  It has lime jell-o on top with a creamy layer underneath, full of pears.  I made it a few months ago and enjoyed it, but my husband didn't like the pears and thought the creamy part needed to be sweeter, so I experimented and made an orange version that was a big hit.  Usually I don't like orange Jell-o (lifelong aversion to certain orange flavors, thanks to a medicine I had to take as a small child!), but this one is really good.  I made it for Thanksgiving and it was a great addition.
I've listed the cinnamon as optional.  The original has ginger mixed in with the pears, but I thought cinnamon would go better with oranges.  My husband and in-laws all really liked the cinnamon, and I did, too, but could see it not appealing to some people.  Don't worry about the little cinnamon clumps in my photo.  I made the mistake of mixing the cinnamon in with the oranges, and that didn't go so well.  In the directions below, I have you mix the cinnamon in with the actual Jell-o powder, so it should dissolve better.  When you whisk the Jell-o with the cream cheese, it should end up being very well dispersed.
Creamy Orange Jell-o Mold
6 oz package orange Jell-o powder
3 oz package orange Jell-o Powder
2 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional)
2 15 oz cans mandarin oranges, with juice
12 oz cream cheese
Grease a 2 quart Jell-o mold with a little canola oil on a paper towel (I used a bundt pan) and set aside.
Bring 2 C water to boil, then mix with the large packet of Jell-o until smooth.  Pour juice from canned oranges into a measuring cup and add water to make 1 1/2 C liquid.  Add 2 Tbsp of the lemon juice.  Stir into the hot Jell-o.  Measure out 2 1/2 C of the Jell-o mixture and pour into the greased Jell-o mold and set the rest aside.  Refrigerate until set but not firm, about 45 minutes.
Immediately after placing the mold in the fridge, bring 1 C water to a boil and stir in the small packet of orange Jell-o and cinnamon (if using) until completely dissolved.  Stir in remaining 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice.  Add this to the reserved Jell-o mixture and let sit on the counter.
Soften the cream cheese in the microwave for 30 seconds or so, then whisk smooth.  Whisk in the reserved Jell-o mixture 3 Tbsp at a time, until fully incorporated and smooth.  Stir in drained mandarin oranges.  Spoon gently over set Jell-o in refrigerator.  Let set over night.
When you're ready to serve the Jell-o, simply place a plate over the top of the mold and quickly flip the two over so the plate is on the bottom.  If the Jell-o doesn't release, dip the mold into hot water for 5-10 seconds, dry it off, and try again.  Don't let it sit in the hot water too long, or you'll have a real mess on your hands when you unmold it!
Yield: 10 servings

Monday, March 21, 2016

Under the Sea Jell-o

Look, my first Jell-o mold!  Jell-o molds have always fascinated me, maybe because I don't remember ever seeing any of them as I grew up.  We didn't eat Jell-o often, either.  When I was about 7, my dad and I made a box of Jell-o together, and it never set up, so I didn't make it again until I was 15.  Yes, we somehow managed to mess up Jell-o!  My husband really likes Jell-o though so I now make it a couple of times a year.  Only ever sweet Jell-o, though, we have no interest in the savory varieties.  An ongoing joke with us is that if I ever decide to divorce him, I'll present him with Waikiki Whip.

This Jell-o mold, called Under the Sea Pear Salad from the Joy of Jell-o blog, has intrigued me for a few years now, and I finally decided to make it.  I love pears and the lime Jell-o and ginger just sounded good.  I left out the salt (which I'm glad for), but that was my only change.  My Jell-o mold was just a lightly greased 4 quart measuring cup, but I think it turned out rather pretty.
My husband and I had very different opinions about the Jell-o.  He liked the plain lime layer, but thought the creamy layer needed to be more sweet and wasn't wild about the pears.  Pears are one of his least favorite fruits, but I thought maybe he'd like it here because he likes Dessert Pears and Baked Cinnamon Pear Oatmeal, but no.  To appease him, next time I plan to add more Jell-o powder to the creamy layer so it's sweeter, and I'll use peaches instead of pears.  I'm also planning to make an orange version for Thanksgiving.  I really enjoyed this Jell-o and liked both the pears and the level of sweetness, but life is a compromise and if he will only eat it if it's sweeter and made with peaches, that's how I'll make it!
I found this version of Under the Sea Jell-o on The Joys of Jell-o blog and she got the recipe from the book, The Joys of Jell-o.
Under the Sea Jell-o
3 oz package of lime Jell-o
1 C boiling water
1 Tbsp lime juice
16 oz can pears
6 oz cream cheese, softened
1/8 tsp ground dried ginger (not fresh or it won't set)
Lightly grease a 4 C Jell-o mold and set aside (I used a little canola oil on a paper towel).
Mix the packet of Jell-o with the boiling water and stir until completely dissolved.  Drain the juice from the can of pears into a measuring cup and add cold water to make 3/4 C.  Add lemon juice.  Stir the cold liquid into the hot Jell-o.  Pour 1 C of the mixture into the greased Jell-o mold.  Place the Jell-o mold in the refrigerator and leave the rest of the mixture at room temperature.
When the Jell-o in the mold is set but not firm (about 45 minutes), place softened cream cheese in a microwave safe bowl.  If you can't easily whisk it, melt the cream cheese in the microwave for about 15-30 seconds.  Whisk until smooth, then whisk in the remaining room temperature Jell-o mixture, 2-3 tablespoons at a time, making sure it's smooth before adding more.  Dice pears and stir into mixture.  Spoon carefully over Jell-o in the mold and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
When you're ready to serve the Jell-o, place the mold in a large bowl or pan of hot water so that the hot water comes up to the interior level of the Jell-o.  Of course, be careful not to get water in the mold.  Let the Jell-o sit like this for about a minute, then carefully remove it, dry the mold, place a plate inverted on top of the mold, and carefully flip the mold and plate over so the Jell-o comes out on the plate.
Yield:  About 6-8 servings

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Stir Fried Lemony Green Beans

This is a slight twist on The Pioneer Woman's Lemony Green Beans.  This is a very easy, quick recipe that tastes really good!  The browned butter and the lightly browned beans are delicious.  My husband isn't the biggest green bean fan, but likes these.  Definitely a good, easy side dish veggie recipe to have around.
Stir Fried Lemony Green Beans
2 Tbsp salted butter
12 oz frozen french cut green beans
lemon juice to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and stir constantly until it just begins to turn brown.  If your skillet is dark, you can tilt it on edge a bit and see the color as it pools at the sode of the skillet.  Add frozen green beans and cook, stirring frequently, until the green beans thaw.  Gently press green beans into a single layer in the skillet and leave them alone for about 45 seconds, then stir and repeat with pressing them into the skillet. Do this a few times.  The goal is to get the beans a little browned.  
When the green beans are cooked to your desired doneness, remove them from the heat and stir in lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.  
Yield: 3 servings

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sour Cream Noodle Bake

This recipe is from the Pioneer Woman.  I didn't mess with it too much, except to use greek yogurt instead of sour cream because sour cream upsets my husband's stomach.  Greek yogurt is also undoubtedly healthier and has more protein.  This was a really easy, quick casserole and it turned out pretty well.  Very simple, homey, and comforting.  My husband adored it and gave it a rating of 10 out of 10.  We'll make it again for sure.  I served it with Stir Fried Lemony Green Beans (also from the Pioneer Woman!) and it was a nice dinner.
Sour Cream Noodle Bake
1 lb ground beef
3 cloves minced garlic
15 oz can tomato sauce
salt and pepper to taste
8 oz egg noodles
1 1/4 C cottage cheese
5 oz container plain greek yogurt (or sour cream)
1/4 C sliced green onions
1 C grated cheddar
Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 2 quart baking dish.  Set aside.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high and add ground beef.  Break up with a spoon and cook, stirring frequently.  When it's about half cooked, add the minced garlic.  Continue to cook and stir until beef is cooked through.  Drain off any excess fat, then add the tomato sauce.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Set pan aside.
While you make the sauce, cook the egg noodles just until al dente in a large pot of salted water.  Drain and set aside.
Stir together cottage cheese, greek yogurt, and green onions, then add salt to taste.  Add mixture to noodles and stir to combine.
Pour noodle mixture in prepared baking dish and top evenly with ground beef mixture.  Sprinkle evenly with grated cheddar.  Bake until cheese is melted and dish is hot, 15-20 minutes.
Yield: 6 servings

Friday, March 4, 2016

Pizza Dough

My husband and I love pizza.  It's kind of hard not to love, isn't it?  We like all kinds of pizza, and one of the best things about it is that you can put pretty much whatever you want on it.  Our typical is good old pizza sauce with mozzarella and pepperoni, but I've also made chicken bacon ranch pizza, taco pizza, buffalo chicken pizza, pizza with pesto for the sauce and leftover cooked turkey and roasted red peppers for the toppings.  You can do whatever you want!
I've made quite a few pizza dough recipes over the past 10 years or so, and although many of them look pretty similar, different recipes turn out very differently.  This one originally from Forkful of Comfort has become our favorite and I've made it a lot over the past year.  It's equally wonderful rolled out really thin, normal thickness, or made into a thick pan pizza baked in a pie dish.  It works great for Wrapped Hot Dogs, too.  The recipe also doubles well to make 6 dough balls.

Quick Note: You can use whole wheat or spelt flour if you'd like, that's what I've started doing when I'm not making pizza for guests.  Pizza dough with whole wheat flour absorbs more water, so go ahead and add 3 tablespoons or so more water to the recipe.  You may need to fiddle with it and add a little more water or flour in the kneading stage, but that's just part of making dough!

If you use whole wheat flour, you will get the best results if you roll the dough out fairly thin- pan style pizza crust made with whole wheat dough is quite dense and heavy.  Spelt flour for some reason yields a softer, fluffier dough than whole wheat, so you can make it thick if you want and it will still be great.
Pizza Dough
for dough:
1 2/3 C lukewarm water (about 100 degrees, too hot will kill the yeast)
1 t sugar
1 packet yeast
5 C flour
2 t salt
1/4 C olive oil

for each pizza made with 1 dough ball:
2 T melted butter
1/4 t garlic powder
grated mozzarella
grated parmesan
sprinkle of dried oregano
In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix together warm water, sugar, and yeast and let bloom for 5 minutes.  Add flour, salt, and olive oil, and stir until it becomes too difficult.  Knead with dough hook until dough comes together and looks smooth.  It should be tacky feeling, but not stick to your finger when you touch it.  If it's too dry, add additional warm water 1 Tbsp at a time, and if it's too sticky, add additional flour 2 Tbsp at a time, kneading between additions.  
Once the dough is the correct consistency, knead it for 10 minutes on low.  Cover and let rise until doubled in volume.  You can do this by heating your oven until warm (but not hot), turning off the oven, then putting the bowl of dough inside.
Divide dough into three equal balls (about 14 oz each).  Extra dough balls can either sit, covered, in your refrigerator for a couple of days before you use them (this actually improves the flavor and texture of the dough), or you can freeze them in small plastic bags.  One dough ball will feed 2 people quite comfortably.
When you're ready to make a pizza, preheat the oven to 500 and put the oven rack near the bottom of the oven.   Melt the butter in a small bowl and stir in garlic powder.  Brush part of it onto a baking sheet to grease it.  Form one of the dough balls into a disc (just double the garlic butter mixture and use a larger pan if you want to make a big pizza!) and press it into the baking pan, then roll it out to your desired thickness, anywhere from 8 to 13 inches.  Brush crust with melted garlic butter.  Put pizza sauce, toppings, and cheese on crust and sprinkle entire pizza (including crust) with parmesan.  Sprinkle the top with a little bit of oregano.  Bake until golden, about 10-13 minutes, depending on your oven, the size of the pizza, and your preferences. 

You have three options when it comes to thawing frozen dough.  In each case, once the dough is thawed and room temperature, proceed with making the pizza as written above, starting with the step to preheat the oven.

1) Let the dough ball thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then take it out of the fridge a couple of hours before you want to make the pizza so it can warm to room temperature, or 2) Let the dough sit in the bag on the counter for several hours until it's room temperature, or 3) If you need the dough quicker than that, you can place one of the balls in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place the bowl of dough in a warmed oven as described earlier.  This will speed up the thawing process.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Will It Waffle #1: Toasted Cheese Wavioli

Welcome to my very first Will It Waffle post!  I came upon Daniel Shumski's cookbook Will It Waffle a few months ago (he also has a blog) when I first made Cheddar Bacon Potato Waffles, and was immediately intrigued.  Shumski has posted several of his recipes in assorted places on the internet, and they all looked really good to me.  I had the chance to flip through the book at a book store and was no less intrigued.  Rarely have I seen a cookbook that I wanted to make almost everything from!  This inspired me to attempt to make every recipe from Will It Waffle, and post about each one.  My interest in the book aside, it seemed like a good choice because there are only 53 recipes (no Mastering the Art of French Cooking, thankfully!) and they span snacks, breakfast, main dish, and desserts, so there's a lot of variety.
My plan here is pretty flexible at this point.  I'd like to make at least 2 Will It Waffle recipes per month, so it will probably take me about 2 years to waffle my way through the entire book.  Maybe longer, knowing me.  For each recipe, I will write a recipe intro, describe what I changed, how it turned out, if I think it actually benefited from a trip through the waffle iron, what I'd change next time, and whether I would make the recipe again.  I will then post the recipe itself, but with whatever changes I made.  For anyone who has poked around on my blog, it's obvious that I like to tinker with recipes.  For this little project, I will attempt to keep tinkering to a minimum, but won't hesitate if I think sticking to the recipe would lead to inedible results.  For example, for this recipe, I didn't add any garlic powder because my bread crumbs already had 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and a teaspoon of garlic powder would have absolutely been overwhelming.  Additionally, we would have been eating raw ravioli if I'd pulled them out of the waffle iron after only 2 minutes, so I noted 2 to 4 minutes of cook time in the recipe.
Let the waffling begin!
For my first recipe from Will It Waffle, I chose Toasted Cheese Wavioli.  It just sounded like a fun recipe to kick of my waffling adventure with.  The recipe is just purchased ravioli rolled in bread crumbs and toasted in the waffle iron.  It calls for seasoned bread crumbs, but the kind in the cardboard can have never appealed to me.  They're just dry and salty and blah.  My husband has aptly named them Bread Dust.  I wanted better for my ravioli, so I made my own bread crumbs using sandwich bread from my pantry and this recipe, but toasted them in a large skillet until golden instead of in the oven.  They were really yummy and the recipe conveniently made exactly 1 C of bread crumbs!  
What did I change?  I left out the garlic powder because my bread crumbs already had 1 tsp garlic powder as an ingredient.  I would also be careful with adding any extra salt if you choose to use packaged, pre-seasoned bread crumbs.  Also, I had enough of the egg mixture and bread crumbs to make a full pound of ravioli, rather than the 8 oz in the recipe!  This may be because I used very large spinach and cheese filled ravioli from Sam's Club.  Perhaps you go through more bread crumbs with the smaller variety.  I also had to cook my ravioli for 4 minutes instead of the 2 minutes stated in the original recipe.
How did the recipe turn out?  Quite well!  Pretty much exactly how I hoped.  They're crunchy, toasty, and yummy.  Easy to make, too!
Did the recipe benefit from waffling?  Honestly, I'm not sure.  They were good, but I think they may have turned out just as well in the oven.  No regrets, though, this method was almost surely quicker than the oven and was certainly tasty.
What would I change next time?  The only thing I can think of is to try mixing the olive oil into the bread crumbs instead of into the milk so the ravioli would have more of that fried texture.  I'm not sure this will actually work, but it's worth a try!
Would I make this recipe again?  Yes!  They turned out pretty well and were fun.  My husband really liked them and gave them a rating of 9/10.  I would say more of an 8/10, but liked them enough that I would enjoy making (and eating) them again.  I think they would make a creative appetizer for guests.  We had them for dinner with salad on the side, and I can see serving them like that again.
Toasted Cheese Wavioli
1 C seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 tsp salt (only if your bread crumbs don't have salt added)
1/2 tsp garlic powder (only if your bread crumbs don't have garlic powder added)
1 egg
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 C milk
8 to 16 oz refrigerated cheese ravioli (mine were quite large, see note above)
1 C marinara sauce (I used this recipe)
Preheat oven to 200 degrees and preheat waffle iron to medium.
On a plate, stir together bread crumbs, salt, and garlic powder.  Set aside.
Crack egg into a small bowl and beat with a fork.  Stir in olive oil and milk.  Set aside.
One at a time, dip ravioli into egg mixture, then coat thoroughly with bread crumbs.  Set on a piece of parchment paper next to your waffle iron.  Repeat with remaining ravioli.
Spray waffle iron with nonstick spray and fill waffle iron with as many ravioli as will fit in a single layer.  Close waffle iron and cook for 2 minutes, then lift lid to check on them.  If they aren't yet golden and toasty looking, close the waffle iron and cook for another minute or 2.  Mine took 4 minutes per batch.
Remove ravioli from waffle iron and place on an oven safe plate in the oven to stay warm while you cook the rest.
Serve ravioli with warm marinara sauce.

Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs

This is a pretty straight forward recipe from Taste of Home for bread crumbs that taste a hundred times better than the kind you buy in a cardboard can at the grocery store.  They're also much cheaper, especially if you use stale bread or the heels, which we never seem to eat!  You can store heels in the freezer until you have enough to make bread crumbs.  This recipe doubles well, too.  I haven't tried freezing the bread crumbs yet, but suspect it would work better to freeze them before toasting, and toast them when you're ready to use them.
Quick Note:  Please note the amount of garlic in these breadcrumbs, and that salt is added. I added salt because packaged bread crumbs are salted already.  Be aware of the garlic and salt in the bread crumbs if the recipe you're using them in also calls for garlic and salt!  
 I swear, these aren't made from kitchen table wood shavings!

Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs
4 oz bread (use a scale)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried thyme or marjoram
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
Tear the bread roughly and place in a food processor along with the remaining ingredients.  Pulse until you have fine bread crumbs.  
Pour bread crumbs into a large skillet, set the heat to medium, and toast, stirring frequently, until golden.  Cool completely before storing.  They will keep in a jar at room temperature for a week or so.
Yield:  Approximately 1 cup

Speedy Marinara Sauce with Lemon

This was one of those accidental recipes.  I started out making the 5 Minute Marinara from Barefeet in the Kitchen because I needed marinara to go with my toasted cheese ravioli and didn't want to spend a lot of time on it.  This is a recipe I had come across several months ago and was intrigued by, so it seemed like the perfect time to give it a go.
The recipe calls for 3/4 to 1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, and warns that the full amount yields a pretty spicy sauce.  I thought 1 tsp was a good, safe amount.  WRONG!  I tasted it and it was really good, but just that one little spoonful was very spicy.  The only other tomato products I had in my pantry were two small cans of tomato paste, so I added one along with some beef broth, thought it was still too spicy, so added the second can and more beef broth.  At that point, it was still a little spicier than I'd prefer, but definitely bearable, and anyway, I was out of tomatoes.  So I added the lemon zest and carried on with my ravioli.
Well, the tweaked recipe ended up being really good.  My husband, who usually isn't fond of lemon in savory dishes, loved it and gave it a rating of 10/10.  I think that's the highest he's ever rated any marinara sauce I've made.  I thought it was excellent, too.  Surprisingly complex flavors, rich, robust, and just really good.  The lemon zest makes it perfect.  The sauce does not taste like it was super quick to whip up and took 10 minutes (if you factor out all the fiddling I had to do) to make!  We only used about 1/2 cup of the sauce total for our ravioli, so have quite a bit left over, but this will probably be my default marinara sauce recipe when I need something quick.  I'll bet it would be great with ground beef added to make spaghetti, or with meatballs.  I'm planning to make Chicken Parmesan Meatballs soon with some of the sauce, and am also curious how it will be on pizza.
Quick Note:  I made this with 1 tsp red pepper flakes, but have reduced it to 1/2 tsp in the recipe below because that's how I plan to make it in the future.  1 tsp was still a little too spicy for me.  Also, I chose to use a can of whole tomatoes and pureed it myself instead of the crushed tomatoes that the original recipe calls for.  Whole canned tomatoes tend to be better quality than any of the other canned varieties, and they still have some nice texture when they're pureed.
Speedy Marinara Sauce with Lemon
1/4 C olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
28 oz can whole tomatoes with their liquid, pureed with immersion blender OR crushed with your hands
12 oz can tomato paste
2 C beef broth (or water, plus beef soup base)
zest of 1 lemon
additional salt to taste (I used 1/2 tsp additional)
Add olive oil, garlic, pepper flakes, and salt to a large, cold, nonstick skillet.  Heat to medium and saute garlic, stirring constantly, until it's very fragrant and barely beginning to turn golden.  Add can of pureed tomatoes, tomato paste, and beef broth, stir until smooth, and bring to a low simmer.  Simmer gently for 5 minutes.  Turn off heat, add lemon zest, taste, and add additional salt if necessary.
Yield: About 10 servings