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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Another one of My Signature Dinners....

When I was growing up, my mother would make casseroles for dinner.  She would put crazy stuff together, using a variety of ingredients she found in the fridge, sprinkled some cheese or breadcrumbs over the top and popped it in the oven.  These casseroles were always delicious and we had to enjoy them while we could, because she never wrote anything down, and could never recreate them!  

Lucky for me, I have been blessed with that same talent my mom had, and it is so funny to hear the same frustration in my kids voices when they ask me to make a dish like tonight again.  Because I didn't write anything down, it would fall into that category of "one of a kind",  never to be had again!  So, tonight is a first for me... as I am writing down the ingredients!  I hope you enjoy this!

I began by using a package of sweet Italian sausage, taking the casings off, breaking up the meat as it cooked.  Just before it was done, I cut up a bunch of Compari tomatoes and let the heat of the sausage heat them.   For some crazy reason, I decided to throw in some crumbled bacon for the flavor.  I get a bowl out and start putting together my dish.  Next, I chopped and cooked a vidalia onion.  Just before it was cooked, I found some pepperoni in the fridge and decided to cut that up and toss in with the onion, as well as some chopped fresh garlic.   Once again, when it was done, it went into the bowl with the sausage.


When I was in Cincinnati, I was re-introduced to Hearts of Palm, a delicacy that I don't often eat outside of a restaurant and that are usually in a salad!  But, I loved the flavor and how they look when they are cut up (a little like calamari!)  I'm not sure if you are supposed to use them the way I was planning to, but I figured what the heck?  So, in they went!  I also had some roasted red peppers, so I cut up a few of them and added them to the mix.  Time to cook the pasta.


At this point, I am done cooking.  The last ingredients to add are fresh, torn-up spinach, fresh basil, sea salt and ground pepper, crushed red pepper, some really delicious pasta sauce to pull it all together, and cheese.  Oh, I almost forgot.  Don't ask me why I do this, but I added about 2-3 tablespoons of mayonnaise at the very end.  It seems to add a creaminess that I love.

Now for the fun part.....tasting it!  If I couldn't taste one of the spices I added, I would add more.  I threw in some parsley and a handful of pine nuts for the crunch.

So, how does my mind work?  How did I decide to add the ingredients I did?  Well, I love the way each ingredient tastes, so how could it not taste great all mixed together, right?  You really can't mess this dinner up!  If you aren't sure how something is going to taste, take a spoonful of what you have already made and put it in a small bowl.  Then you can experiment with spices.  If you like the taste, you can add it to the whole bowl.  If not, you haven't ruined it, and you've learned what tastes good together and what doesn't!  

I could have kept adding things to this, but it was getting late and everyone was hungry!  The best part of this dinner is the left overs!  They make a great lunch...

 my official taster....

So, here is the finished dinner, and the only one that I will be able to recreate another day!  I truly hope you try this and add ingredients that you like.  You can't go wrong!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Birthday dinner!

Sorry for disappearing for a few days!  Between graduation parties, going out to eat, and volunteering at cookouts, I haven't cooked in a few days.  I started a tradition in my family, where the birthday boy or girl gets to have me cook them whatever they want for their birthday dinner.  Yesterday was my daughter, Shannon's 15th birthday.  Because of her busy social calendar, she asked that we have her dinner today instead... and her meal of choice was cranberry wild rice stuffed pork tenderloin and roasted brussel sprouts.

This dinner was a little bit of work, but not difficult in the least.  I started out making the stuffing.   I made a package of wild rice, and when it was done, I threw in a handful of craisins.  Once it had cooled off, I added a handful of sliced almonds, shredded Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, some tarragon, thyme, parsley, garlic, sauteed chopped onion, and fresh chopped bella mushrooms and torn up spinach.  Putting this aside, I take about 2 cups of Pepperidge Farm Stuffing, which I added to some heated chicken broth.   Combine the stuffing with the rice and begin tasting.  I like to make sure I can actually taste the flavors of the tarragon, thyme,  etc.  It usually will need some extra salt and pepper at this point.  You can get a little creative and add some cooked sweet Italian saugage if you want to!  When it tastes just right, put it aside and pull out the pork tenderloins.

You have to remove the white sheath that covers a small area of the tenderloin.  If you don't, the tenderloin will curl as it cooks.  Just stick the point of a knife under the sheath and slice the knife until it begins to cut off.  Hold onto it as you slide your knife underneath it   Next, I butterfly the tenderloins, and pound them until they are an even thickness (thin enough to roll up without tearing!)  I brush them with a little olive oil, and sprinkle some garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper.  Now you add stuffing down the center of the tenderloin and gently roll up width wise.  I stuff the stuffing inside the meat with my finger tips as I am rolling.  Last step is to use some cooking twine and tie it up so it won't come unrolled.

I popped them in a pan and sprinkled some Montreal seasoning over all sides.  With a little olive oil in the pan, and with medium high heat,  I sear the entire outside.  When done, the whole pan goes in the oven to finish cooking....approximately 30 minutes at 400 degrees.  You want the pork to be just a hint of pale pink, in order to catch the moistness.

While that was cooking, I cut up the brussel sprouts and added some carrots as well.  Coat with some olive oil, sea salt and pepper, and some lemon mint seasoning if you have it.  Otherwise, the salt and pepper is fine!  Roast them until they begin to slightly brown.

My goal is always to have everything be done at the same time!  Tonight it worked, and the birthday girl was very happy... and for dessert?  Georgetown Cup Cakes....only the best cupcakes on the planet!

The home made birthday cake will wait for another day!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grillin' at 10 Pomfret.....the heat is on!

Well, this probably was probably not the best night to be standing out at a really hot grill, cooking chicken thighs, when it is 90+ degrees at 8 p.m.!  Oh well, it's a done deal-- I survived, and the dinner was yummy.  I tried one of my new spices I purchased in Cincinnati....this one had rosemary, mint, thyme, savory, marjoram, parsley, salt, pepper.  I removed the skin and did a brine for just about an hour (1 quart water, 3/4 cup salt, 3/4 cup honey, which gets boiled, then cooled off by the frozen chicken!!!)

Before grilling, I get my brown rice ready.  2 cups chicken broth, 1/2 stick butter, a little dried onion simmer.  Then add 1 cup brown rice and cook on low for about 30 minutes.  When done, turn off the heat and let it sit.  Cut up some fresh spinach and grab a handful of sliced almonds.  Add to the rice, along with seasoning.  I chose a mint seasoning that also had some cilantro in it.  My aim was to get some serious flavor going on.

After tasting, all I had to add was some salt and pepper.  Really tasty this time!  Now I go out to grill the chicken thighs for about 1/2 hour, turning regularly so they don't get too brown.

  Ahhhh, perfect!  Now for the glaze....

I mixed some honey (1/2 cup), dijon mustard (a couple of tablespoons), soy sauce (maybe a 1/4 cup), and a little rice vinegar ( a couple of tablespoons).  You kind of eyeball it, tasting all the way....  I cook on the stove for about 5 minutes.  Then I added 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and some water to thicken the glaze up.  I painted it on the chicken and popped the chicken into a 350 degree oven for the last 10 minutes. 

What was the best thing about this dinner?  The tender, moist chicken because of the brining?  maybe.  The flavor of grilling and using the seasoning that had the mint?  maybe.  Or, was it the glaze at the end?  You know, I think it was a combination of all three.... but the raves I got from the folks who ate this say it all!  This definitely wasn't a quick dinner, but when all was said and done, it was well worth the wait!!!  From start to finish?  About 1 1/2 hours.

Winner Appetizers!

I know I promised you the delish appetizers from my little soiree last night.  Pictures will be at a minimum, but make sure you jot down the recipes because they were awesome!  First off, I want to welcome my newest viewer, Laura, whom I love dearly!  I just turned her on to my 1300+ viewers blog  and she seems quite happy!  Welcome!

Now, down to business.  First off, I made this perfect spinach artichoke dip.  Addictive!

1 pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeeze the water out
1 can artichoke hearts chopped
8 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. sour cream
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup Monterrey Jack cheese
1/2 onion chopped
1 stick butter
red pepper flakes

Cook onions in butter, blend each ingredient in.  Start with spinach, cream cheese, sour cream, parm cheese, artichoke hearts, and crushed red pepper.  Remove from heat, put into a serving dish.  Top with the Monterrey Jack cheese and melt.  I served it with Stacy's pita chips, but honestly?  You could totally bypass the chips and just eat it with a spoon it is so good!!!!  Sorry there's no picture, but you all know what spinach artichoke dip looks like!


I then made these quesedillas....  ready?

Tortillas, medium sized.  Spread pesto all over.  Next add fresh baby spinach leaves to one half of the tortilla.  Just keep building on one side.   Slice up some roasted red peppers and add to the tortilla.  Put a couple of slices of prosciutto on next, followed by any type of shredded cheese you would like.

Fold the tortilla in half and brown in a small amount of oil in a hot pan.  Flip and cook the other side.  Make sure the cheese is melted!

When it is done, lay it on some paper towels to get rid of any excess oil.  Cut in wedges and serve... to die for!!!

And, last but not least, the delicious Buffalo Chicken dip.  Once again, no picture was available, but it is so easy to'll be fine!

Mix 2 8 oz packages of cream cheese with 1 cup of ranch salad dressing, 1 cup of Frank's Hot Sauce, and 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese.  All of this can be mixed with an electric mixer.   Shred and add about 1 pound of cooked chicken breasts (you can actually by the Perdue short cuts below to save on some time)
Put in a serving dish and cook for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  I cut up celery sticks for dipping, but you can dip anything, including your fingers, into this dip!  

All three of these were easy and guaranteed to make people happy....

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Bye Day......

Sorry guys.... Will be entertaining tomorrow night, so am prepping and cooking for tomorrow night.  Decided to go the easy route tonight for dinner, something that you should do every once in a while!  I had a bag of really good spinach and mozerella raviolis that I quickly cooked up.  Throw on some really yummy sauce, a little cheese, and there you go.   A light dinner that got gobbled up.

I promise to publish a great post tomorrow night of some really delicious appetizers that you should definitely take notes on.... Buffalo Chicken dip, flatbread pizza, a killer artichoke/spinach dip, and an appetizer that uses flour tortillas, fresh spinach, prosciutto, pesto, cheese......yum!  Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

An Afterthought to the Amazing Stuffed Peppers... re-gifting!

I really hope you got a chance to try this stuffing recipe.  It was truly phenomenal!  The only problem I had was I had made too much stuffing!  After filling 2 panfuls of peppers, I needed something else to stuff!  In other words, I needed to "re-gift" my stuffing.   I don't know about you, but chicken always seems to be the most versatile meat when it comes to experimenting.  So..... I thought, what if I pounded some chicken breasts so that they were nice and thin, then stuff them with the left over stuffing, roll them up, tie them and roll them in bread crumbs....

So, that's what I did.  Once they were all ready to go, I browned them on all sides in a fry pan, then popped them in a 325 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

I have to tell you...for a last minute thought, these were delicious!  And, the hard work was done the previous day when I made the stuffing! 

A Special Father's Day Request...

First of all, I want to wish all the fathers out there a wonderful Father's Day.  Some celebrate with their dads, others celebrate the memories.  Either way, it is a truly special day to show appreciation.

Evidently, one of my devoted followers requested that I cook something basic.....on the grill....something he can do!  So, the ONLY answer I could come up with was rib eye steaks.  One cannot go wrong cooking these beauties.  They are the easiest steaks to cook.  Most meats are better when marinated; not rib eyes.  The best thing to do to prepare them for grilling is about 2 hours before, put the steaks on a pan and cover both sides with kosher salt.  The salt will draw out a lot of the juice, but this is actually going to make them unbelievably tender, not dry!   Just before you are ready to grill them, wash off all the salt and pat dry.  I add a touch of garlic powder and pepper, but you don't have to add anything if you don't want to.  They will cook the best if they are room temperature.

While the steaks are salting, I wash and cut up small red and white potatoes.  I am kind of famous in my house for making some really sweet roasted potatoes, so listen up!  Salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley, basil, mustard powder, thyme, and olive oil.  Roasting them in the convection oven really speeds up the process, but if you don't have one, just use a hot oven, about 425 for a good 30-45 minutes.
                                   Before.....                                          After...........


The last thing I get ready is the zucchini.  I am hooked on roasting vegetables, mostly because they have the best flavor and retain all their vitamins and minerals.  I sliced 3 zucchini, coated with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Popped them in a 475 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until they start to brown.  When done, I take them out and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese and add a little butter.

Now, get your grill nice and hot and grill for about 10-12 minutes on each side.  Do not open the grill while you are cooking the first side.  Use tongs or a spatula to flip...never stab them with a fork.  You may think that they aren't cooked after the time cooked, but when they sit, they will continue to cook a bit more.  If you like your steak well done, then you need to cook them about 15-20 minutes on each side. Rib eye steaks are probably one of the most flavorful steaks and should never be over cooked!  Slice them up, and mangia!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

This dinner is definitely a "keeper". Buckle your seatbelts and get ready for a great ride!

I have to tell you...I have made stuffed peppers a few different ways, either with rice and hamburg, or fresh bread cubed with cheese, garlic, fresh basil and italian breadcrumbs and sauce....but tonight's recipe is the all-time winner!  It had to be the croutons.  I can't think of anything else I put in that could have given it the flavor and crunch that it had!  So, folks, sit back, take notes, and enjoy!

So, a few of the major ingredients:  Ceasar Salad croutons...

who knew that these little suckers would be the highlight of this recipe!  Throw a whole bunch of them in a pan with some olive oil and saute.  I ended up adding more croutons at the end, just because they were so good and there didn't seem to be enough!  They absorb the oil, get even more crunchy, and give this dish the majority of its flavor! when they are done, dump them in a bowl.

Next, cook a package of sweet italian sausage, removed from their casings and brake up.

When done, add to the croutons that you have dumped into a bowl.  Next cut up some zucchini and saute in the same pan, but for only about 5 minutes.  You just want to begin to cook them.  When done, in the bowl!  Next saute some onion, approximately 1 medium sized...when done, in the bowl.   Now add cut up cherry tomatoes, cut up small fresh mozzarella balls,  fresh basil, parsley, salt and pepper, parm cheese, and fresh garlic (do not cook the tomatoes or mozzarella!).  It is at this point you need to start dipping your fingers in and tasting.  What does it need?  Can you taste the garlic?  the fresh basil? does it need a little more salt and pepper? You should be able to define some major flavors!  I used fresh basil, dried basil, parsley, salt and pepper, and fresh garlic.  


When you absolutely have a heart attack because this tastes so good....that is when you stuff your red peppers!  Mix up some chicken broth with some pasta sauce.  Pour this in the bottom of a deep roasting pan.  Lay the peppers in the sauce, cover with foil and bake at 350 for approximately 30 minutes.  Take a look, and if they don't feel soft enough, leave the cover off and cook for another 15 minutes.  You want them to be really tender.  At this point, you could throw on some grated mozarella  cheese for the last 10 minutes in the oven. 

These have to be my all-time favorite stuffed peppers!  You, of course, can always add anything you like!  Just keep tasting it to make sure it not too bland! you could use hot sausages, or different spices.  I really hope you enjoyed this recipe!  It steps outside the box a bit, but you will see that it is ok to do that!!!!

I honestly don't know why this is a recipe that is so close to my heart....maybe some of you do!  Maybe the ingredients are typical of "me"?  not sure!  I hope you enjoy..

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Preview to tomorrow's dinner...

I was invited to go to the movies tonight, so cooking dinner got shifted to tomorrow night!

I have been craving stuffed peppers ever since I got back from Cincinnati.  My good friend out there made us a stuffed pepper dinner that was to die for!  So I am going to share with you my unique combination of ingredients that will hopefully wow you!  Below are just a few things I will use:

Believe it or not, these are croutons!

shredded carrots and chopped zucchini...

Take the casings off, and totally cook!

So, I don't want totally give away my dinner, but hopefully I have enticed you just a little, so that you will come back tomorrow and see how it came out!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Let's see, how creative can I be on a Monday night???

Today is Monday.  We all know how difficult it is just to get through today, let alone figure out dinner!  So the positive things are:  a short commute to and from work, beautiful weather, feeling really good today, and grateful for everything I have.  What a combination!  So, after giving it a lot of thought, I decided that I really feel like eating chicken and want to make something different..... So I decide to use  potatoes, chicken, onion, spinach and artichoke hearts.  How, you say?? Well, stay tuned and I will enlighten you, as I always try to do!

I have a package of chicken thighs, and decide to de-bone them and cut into chunks.  Next is a marinade.....I look in the fridge and find some Caesar salad dressing.  For some reason, that sounds perfect to me so I douse the chicken in the dressing and add the amazing Ras el Hanout seasoning I got in Cincinnati at Colonel De's.  The smell alone screams to be used on chicken!   (If you didn't read my blog about Colonel De's,  send me a message and I will give you the contact info!  well worth it....)


While my chicken is getting all happy, I cook the potatoes and add the onions, olive oil and S&P...Once the potatoes are cooked, I turn down the heat and add fresh garlic, cut-up artichoke hearts,  and fresh spinach, hoping that the heat of the potatoes will cook the spinach just enough, but not too much!


I take the chicken out to cook it until it is nicely grilled....I get back to my favorite pan, add the chicken, and I now start tasting and adding more Ras al Hanout,  Caesar dressing and salt and pepper until I get the right amount of flavor.  The Ras seasoning gives this a great clove/cinnamon/ yummie flavor that just cannot be reproduced!  Lastly, I add some slivered almonds for a little crunch.  I have to tell you...this pan was overflowing and I really thought I had made way too much.  But when all was said and done, there were no left overs!

There is just something about the flavor of the seasonings from Colonel De's, the grilled  chicken, yummy seasoned potatoes, the lightly-cooked spinach, garlic, and the final touch of the artichoke hearts and almonds that made this delicious.  

I guess my advice to you is to never be afraid to try something.  Who knew the Caesar dressing would make a good marinade?   I do, because I tried it once a long time ago and found it to be delicious!  You won't know something is good until you try it!  What's the worst that could will just taste terrible and you will know never to do that again!  So far, I have been very lucky!!!!