Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Broccoli and Leek Carbonara

This recipe was inspired by one I found in the Ricardo cooking magazine. Readers who are not from Canada, may be unfamiliar with the chef, food writer, and television host, named Ricardo Larrivée from Québec Canada. To me, Ricardo is the Canadian Martha Stewart, except he's male, and has a better magazine. I have long wanted to subscribe to the hard copy of his magazine, Ricardo Cuisine, but a foreign subscription is a bit too pricey for my wallet, so I was happy to be able to subscribe to the digital version, which is where I found the recipe for Broccoli Carbonara that inspired this one.

I tend to make pasta dishes once a week because I find that they are excellent ways in which to deliciously use up small portions of things left in the fridge. In this case, broccoli that remained after making the
Crockpot Beef and Broccoli dish was put to use, along with leeks leftover over from the Strata, as well as a tidbit of deli ham. This is a light, delicious dish that makes either two hearty main dish servings, or four side servings. Feel free to swap out or add in any vegetables that are to your liking. I'm going to try this again with leeks, mushrooms, and quartered roasted Brussels sprouts.
Broccoli and Leek Carbonara

1/2 cup minced deli ham
1 1/2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups medium penne pasta
1 1/2 cups small broccoli florets
2 large eggs
2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, place the deli ham, leeks, and the garlic, along with the oil and butter. Cook until all ingredients are lightly sautéed, or wilted.

In a large pot of boiling water to which you've added a teaspoon of salt and tablespoon of olive oil, place the penne, and cook at a full boil for nine minutes. At the nine minute point, dump in the broccoli, and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes until the pasta is al denté. At this point use a ladle and ladle out a cup of the pasta water, and then drain the pasta and broccoli.

In a large mixing bowl whisk the eggs until frothy, then whisk in the Parmesan cheese, and very slowly whisk in about 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water. Add the pasta and broccoli to this mixture and stir to coat. Return this mixture to the large stockpot in which you boiled the pasta, and add the ham/leek/garlic mixture. Warm through over low heat stirring constantly until the egg mixture begins to thicken. If it gets too thick, little by little add in a bit more of the pasta water, stirring constantly. Once it reaches the desired thickness, stir in the parsley and serve.
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Monday, February 27, 2017

Irish Cheddar and Leek Strata

The strata is the comfort food of the breakfast buffet. With its creamy texture, deliciously cheesy taste, and containing all of your favorite breakfast meats and vegetables, it cannot help but make you feel all cozy inside.

In my attempt to celebrate one holiday before it has actually passed, I've been perusing Irish cookbooks. I am not new to the strata, but I found a new recipe, just begging for adaption, in an old cookery book of Irish pub food. This one is vegetarian, and although you could certainly add ham, bacon, sausage, or all of them to it, I'm not sure that you would want to for fear of overpowering the delicate sweetness of the leeks.

 It also calls for stout, so I decided to use one of my favorite local stouts, Corner Kick Coffee Stout from Six Mile Bridge Brewing Company, located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. I was amazed at the difference adding stout to a strata could make. No doubt it would have been just as delicious without it, this flavorful addition gave it that certain something that took it over the top. 

This is a recipe that I think you and your entire family will enjoy. The beauty of this dish, as with all stratas, is that you can assemble it the day, or night before, pop in into the fridge, and pull it out that morning to bake it up while the coffee is brewing, and you're padding out to the driveway in your slippers to get the paper
Irish Cheddar and Leek Strata
Makes 12 servings

8 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup Corner Kick Coffee Stout from
Six Mile Bridge Brewery*
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf challah bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 medium leeks, chopped
1/3 cup diced
Melissa's Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers
1 1/2 cups shredded Gruyere
1 1/2 cups shredded Irish cheddar

Spray a 9" x 13" baking dish with Pam; set aside. Whisk together eggs, milk, stout, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until well blended.

Scatter half of the bread cubes in the bottom of the prepared baking dish; sprinkle half of the leeks and half of the peppers on top of the bread. Top the peppers with half of the Gruyere and half of the Irish cheddar. Repeat these layers one more time. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the top, pressing down on the bread to make sure that it's covered.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake, uncovered, 45 minutes or until the center is set. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

This freezes beautifully for enjoying at breakfasts or brunches to come.

*If you can’t get to the Tap Room to pick up a growler, you can always use Guinness.
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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Slow Cooker Jambalaya

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It's "Sip Some Soup Sunday," and while I know jambalaya is not soup, I served it as both a main dish, and a side soup, and it was delicious both ways. How perfect is having a recipe that you can serve in two different ways, and it only gets better every time? 

This is yet another stupidly easy crockpot dish. (I know you think I use my crockpot way too much. I probably do, but the food that I have been cranking out in this house day after day has been amazingly good). It's different from a lot of recipes for jambalaya because the rice is not cooked in the pot along with the rest of the ingredients. Really, when I have jambalaya, no matter what recipe I use, I like to serve the rice alongside so that people can take as much or as little as they like. But, because the rice is not stirred into the dish, this jambalaya seems to be extra juicy. So, what I did, when I decided to serve it with rice as the main dish, I scooped it out of the pot with a slotted spoon and placed it alongside the rice and then spooned a little juice over it. What was left over I put into the fridge. The next day I ladled both the juice and meats, shrimp, and vegetables into a soup cup and I had it with a side salad and crusty roll. It was so good as soup that I was tempted to just forget using rice at all, and refer to it as New Orleans Jambalaya Soup. Needless to say, I love the versatility of this dish, and I also love that it only gets better the longer it stays in the fridge.

So, you can sip some soup today, or you can have a flavorful main dish, this recipe is two in one!
Slow Cooker Jambalaya
Adapted from Allrecipes.com

1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs - cut into 1 inch cubes
1 lb. andouille sausage, sliced
1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 c. chopped celery
1 c. homemade chicken stock
2 t. dried oregano
2 t. dried parsley
1/2 t. dried thyme
1 lb. frozen cooked shrimp without tails

In a slow cooker, mix the chicken, sausage, tomatoes with juice, onion, green bell pepper, celery, and broth. Season with oregano, parsley, Cajun seasoning, cayenne pepper, and thyme.

Cover, and cook 7 to 8 hours on Low, or 3 to 4 hours on High. Stir in the shrimp during the last 30 minutes of cook time.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Stupidly Easy, Astoundingly Delicious, Slow Cooker Beef & Broccoli

Do you know how you can tell when a dish is really good? When you're dining alone, hear embarrassing sounds of passion, and then realize those sounds are coming from you. Yep, this dish will do it to you.

This is the beef and broccoli to end all beef and broccoli. It easily rivals my favorite take-out place, but wins points hugely in that it is cost-effective, can be made at home, freezes beautifully, and tastes absolutely fantastic. I liked it so much that I bought another chuck roast, and plan on making it again next week. That is, if I can wait until next week, I may just make it again this weekend. Yes, it's that good.
Stupidly Easy, 
Astoundingly Delicious,
Slow Cooker Beef & Broccoli

1-pound boneless beef chuck roast, sliced into thin slices*
1 cup low sodium beef broth
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon molasses
1 tablespoon
sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon grated
Melissa’s fresh organic ginger
1 head of fresh broccoli, broken into large florets
2 tablespoons cornstarch

In the crock of your slow cooker place beef broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, molasses, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger, and whisk together until thoroughly blended. Place your thin strips of beef on top of the liquid, and give it a stir so that the beef is well coated.

Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 4-1/2 to 5 hours. At the end of this time, remove 1/4 cup of the juice to a small bowl, and whisk in the cornstarch. Return this mixture to the meat mixture and stir to combine. At this point you can dump in all of your broccoli, pressing it down with the back of a fork or spoon in an attempt to submerge it. Cook for 30 more minutes, during which time you can prepare the rice (Or put your feet up and have a glass of wine, your choice.). When the 30 minutes are up you can dig in. You'll thank me later.

*I decided to make this for dinner this morning, and my chuck roast was frozen. It was a 2-pound chuck roast, and I decided I was only going to use 1 pound, so I put in the microwave on defrost, let it defrost for a little bit (probably about four minutes on the defrost setting), cut it in half, put the other half back in the freezer, and then used a very sharp knife to cut the remaining half into thin strips. I find that when cutting beef into thin strips, no matter what cut of beef it is, that it helps to have it partially frozen. You can really control the size and shape of the strips that way, and it slices easily, and beautifully.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Pick Your Holiday" Crunch

This recipe, originally called Cupid’s Crunch was all over the Internet; many of you probably saw it. Did any of you make it? Well, I decided that I was going to make it. The problem is, I didn't make it until the day after Valentine's Day...well, two days after...all right, I made it this morning, are you happy?! The important thing here is that it's good! In fact, under the right circumstances, this could be fairly addicting. That, of course, is not good, but I would encourage you to make it anyway. 

The recipe is called Cupid’s Crunch most likely because it uses Valentine M&Ms in white, pink, and red, but don't let that deter you from making it at any time of the year, hence my calling it “Pick Your Holiday” Crunch. You can call it Leprechaun Crunch and just use white and green M&Ms. You can call it Easter Bunny Crunch, and use the pastel M&Ms, or Fourth of July Crunch, well, you get the picture. Whatever you decide to use, and whatever you decide to call it, it's going to be good and people are going to lap it up. You might just want to double the recipe.

"Pick Your Holiday" Crunch

2 cups Corn Chex cereal
1 cup Honey Nut Cheerios
1 cup pretzel sticks
1 ½ cups M&M's
1 cup honey roasted peanuts
2 cups white chocolate candy melts
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat; set aside.

Combine first five ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine oil and white chocolate discs and melt in the microwave in 20-second increments, stirring between each.

Pour the melted chocolate over the dry ingredients and carefully fold together.

Immediately spread mixture onto prepared baking sheet to dry. Break apart into chunks when cool.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Almond Crunch Cookies

As I've mentioned once, twice, or maybe a dozen times, I am in the process of cleaning up, clearing out, de-cluttering, and donating. Essentially, I'm involved in the proper dispersal of my late husband's vast collection of books. When I say vast collection, I'm talking more than a thousand. In fact, after 5000, I stopped counting. There have been a more than few treasures among all of these.
As I was carting the latest pile upstairs to box up for donation, a small Pillsbury cookbook fell out of the stack, hit the floor, and opened to this page. This is the kind of thing that I call fate. Was the great beyond telling me that I needed to make these cookies? Maybe, maybe not, but I made them anyway.
As much as I love to eat them -- cookies are my favorite dessert -- I'm not a fan of making them, but I do, on occasion; today was one of those occasions. I really hate baking cookies that have to be rolled into balls, and then again in sugar, and then need to be flattened this way and then that with the tines of a fork. What trouble! These cookies, however, are worth the trouble.

 The recipe refers to them as giant cookies, yielding a cookie 4 inches in diameter. I didn’t find this to be the case. The size was perfect, I thought, and rolling them into balls resulted in a rather boring cookie, so after doing this a dozen times, I just decided to plop a glob right from the cookie scoop into a bowl of sugar, roll it around, and place in on the cookie sheet.  Much better! I also did not have wheat flour, so substituted almond meal and it worked out perfectly! Give these a try, they're addicting.

You can see the recipe from the book above, my version is below and available  via the "Print" button at the bottom of this post.
Almond Crunch Cookies
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup oil
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups coarsely chopped almonds
1 6-ounce package almond brittle baking chips
Sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, blend sugar, powdered sugar, butter, and oil until well mixed. Add almond extract and eggs; mix well. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. Gradually blend in flour, almond meal, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar at low speed. By hand, stir in almonds and brickle chips. Chill, if desired. Shape large tablespoonfuls of dough into balls; roll in sugar. Place 5 inches apart on greased cookie sheets; with fork dipped in sugar, flatten in crisscross pattern.

Bake for 12 to 18 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Cool cookies one minute before removing from cookie sheets.

Yield 3-1/2 dozen four-inch cookies.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Avocado and Corn Salsa

For me, Aldi is a bad, bad place. I don't know what it is about walking into that store, but for a small grocer, I can do one heck of a lot of damage. The produce section, the vegetable section in particular, is probably not a whole lot bigger than my dining table, and yet, I can fill half of my cart with their lovely, fresh produce. It wasn't until I got to the checkout, my cart absolutely bursting with items (Yes, I did treat myself to a bottle of wine, some baklava, and a few other goodies.), when I realized that I had probably spent way too much. I do try to stay on a budget, but that budget goes right out the window once I walk into the door.

Because today is Valentine's Day, and it's the first I'm spending on my own, I bought myself a couple treats, including two bundles of tulips, and two bags of avocados. These may not seem like treats to you -- some of you may prefer chocolates to avocados -- but they certainly are to me. I love tulips, and I really love avocados. Of course in buying the avocados I realized that I have to use them, so decided it was time for a fresh salsa to enjoy in celebration of our unseasonably warm weather, and get me in the mood for spring.

If you have a touch of spring fever like I do, and if you like fresh delicious vegetables in the form of salsa, you'll love this recipe.
Avocado and Corn Salsa

2 ripe avocados, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup diced cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup corn, fresh or frozen (if the latter, allow to thaw)
2 Tablespoons diced scallions
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, more or less, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cumin

Gently toss avocado with the lime juice. Add tomato, corn, onion, jalapeño, and cilantro to the mixing bowl and gently toss to mix. Season with salt, pepper, and cumin, to taste. Enjoy!

I particularly like it with Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Andes Mint Chocolate Chip Fudge

Every time I go to visit my dad, I like to take him a special treat. He does love his sweets, and I know he misses my mom making them. As of this past Saturday, she has been gone now for four years, and it's a tough time for us both, not to mention our extended family.

From the time I was very small, dinner was not dinner without dessert. Ask my hips, and they'll tell you that I am wearing desserts I should have said "no" to. Dad tends to eat nothing but frozen meals because he isn't much of a cook, and has no interest in becoming one, and while I take him what I can, I think he most appreciates the goodies. Over the years I have delivered cookies, coffee cakes, cupcakes, and pie, but I think his favorite must be fudge; I seem to get the biggest reaction from that. One time he told me that he tasted the fudge early in the day, and then kept going back for another nibble. By day's end he realized he had consumed a pound of fudge. I figure anybody who is in as good health as he is, and is as old mature as he is, deserves to eat fudge.
I was looking for new fudge recipes and wanted to do something different to take in the last time I visited. I happened across this one, and it sounded like a winner. It also sounded easy to put together, plus I had everything on hand, so, why not? It was as easy as I’d suspected, and tasted like Andes mints. I am a huge mint and chocolate fan, and figured that the apple hadn't fallen far from the tree. It really hadn't, dad loved this fudge.
Andes Mint Chocolate Chip Fudge*
2-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk, divided
1-1/2 cups white chocolate baking chips
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 drops green food coloring
1 teaspoon shortening
1/2 cup Andes Crème De Menthe Baking Chips

Line an 8" x 8" baking pan with foil, leaving a two-inch overhang on each side for easy lifting from the pan. Spray foil with non-stick spray and set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt 1-1/2 cups chocolate chips with 3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk, stirring occasionally. Spread melted chocolate mixture into pan and chill for 5-10 minutes.

In another saucepan, melt white baking chips and remaining condensed milk, stirring until completely smooth. Remove from the heat and add peppermint extract and food coloring. Spread mint layer over chilled chocolate layer. Chill for 5-10 minutes as you make the final layer.

Melt remaining 1 cup of chocolate chips with 1 tsp shortening in the microwave in 30-second increments. Stir until completely smooth. Spread over chilled mint layer. Top with Andes baking chips. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or until fudge is completely set (could take up to 4 hours).

Using foil edges, carefully lift from pan onto cutting board. Peel away foil and cut into squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to two weeks. According to the recipe, this fudge will freeze and thaw well, but, honestly, is fudge ever around long enough to necessitate freezing?

*As seen on Sally's Baking Addiction


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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Slow Cooker Christmas Day Taco Soup

It just occurred to me that I have not yet shared with you an easy soup recipe that simmers all day in the slow cooker while you are busy getting a bunch of things done. So, for today's "Sip Some Soup Sunday" I'm going to give you the recipe for the soup that I made on Christmas Day.

There's a bit of a back-story here. On Christmas Day I did nothing other than cook and clean. This is because my big party is on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. Honestly, I don't mind spending Christmas Day on my own. It's very calming; I can pretty much relax and enjoy myself between frantic bits of cooking and cleaning. I'll binge watch Christmas movies on television, always have a nice fire going in the fireplace, and it's become a bit of a ritual for me over the past number of years. Around about noon I came to the realization that while I was making all kinds of food for my party the next day, I hadn’t done anything about feeding myself that day. So, I opened up the pantry grabbed a wide variety of ingredients, all with a bit of a Mexican theme, and tossed them into the crockpot while I browned some ground chuck. As it cooked, the house was filled with the most wonderful spicy aroma, and by day’s end I dug into a most welcome and fabulous soup. This is an easy one, and it's really good.
 Slow Cooker Christmas Day Taco Soup

1 pound ground chuck, crumbled, browned, and drained
2 Tablespoons taco seasoning
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained
1 15-oz. can corn, drained
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
1 10-oz. can Rotel tomatoes
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes

Dump everything into the slow cooker in the order listed and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Top with whatever tickles your fancy. I used scallions, grated cheese, and crumbled Fritos.

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