Monday, April 30, 2012

Chicken Pasta Salad with Green Beans

This salad is so easy to make I almost didn't post it, but decided somebody reading this post might need a really tasty, easy idea for dinner tonight. This salad comes together quickly if you have some leftover chicken to use up, or if you purchase a rotisserie chicken from the deli. I baked a couple of chicken breasts that I had in the fridge. I just salted and peppered them and baked them at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. After they cooled I added them to the salad that I found at Cooking Light. My only changes were to use Farfalle, instead of Penne, tomatoes instead of jarred roasted peppers, and a bit more dressing. This was a great salad on a warm spring evening and I thought it tasted better after it had chilled for an hour. Give it a try if you need a quick meal idea. Enjoy!

Chicken Pasta Salad with Green Beans
Adapted from Cooking Light   (3-4 Servings)

2 cups uncooked pasta-recipe calls for penne, but I used farfalle
2 cups, inch cut fresh green beans-about 1/2 pound
2 cups shredded or cubed cooked chicken
1/4 cup fresh basil, cut in strips-don't leave this out
2 teaspoons chopped, fresh parsley
1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoon cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt-I used less, about 1/4 teas.
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 small garlic clove, minced

Cook past according to package directions. The last 4 minutes of cooking, add the sliced green beans, so they will cook with the pasta. After 4 minutes, drain the pasta and beans in a colander.Rinse with cold water to make the beans quit cooking and drain well.  combine the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic in a small bowl. In a large bowl, add the rest of the salad ingredients along with the chicken and the pasta and beans. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix. Can be served immediately, or later after it has chilled. We really enjoyed it cold after a hot day of working outdoors.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Oven-Baked Barbecued Baby Back Ribs

 Fall-off-the-bone tender ribs, slathered with a spicy homemade barbecue sauce, are irresistible. I wanted to cook these babies on the grill last week, but a thunderstorm forced me to cook them indoors in my oven. Sigh~
I had 2 racks of ribs I wanted to cook, but when it started raining, I put 1 rack in the freezer to save for another time. I don't have a dry place to grill when it is stormy. But ribs cooked in the oven are certainly very tasty too. The color is off in my photos, as the sun came out again when it was time to take pictures, so I took them out on my front porch. For some reason, the ribs look almost black, but they were not.
 I use a rub and sprinkle it all over the ribs, cover with plastic wrap, and keep in the refrigerator for a few hours. This time I prepared them in the morning, and cooked them later in the afternoon, for about 3 hours total. Barbecue sauce is applied the last 30-45 minutes of cooking to ensure a spicy, sticky glaze. Baby back ribs are delicious prepared this way, they just won't have the fresh smoked flavor of the outdoor grill. We still love them though. Easy to prepare, you will need about 2 1/2 - 3 hours cooking time. 
Oven-Baked Baby Back Ribs
From Lynda's Recipe Box

1 or 2 racks of Baby Back ribs
about 1 tablespoon rub, either your own mix, or a purchased rub-recipe below)
liquid smoke-about 2 teaspoons
Barbecue sauce- I used this homemade version

1. Rinse the ribs with cold water. Dry them well with paper towels.

2. Remove the membrane from the underside of the ribs. To do that, loosen the membrane at one corner with a paring knife. Using a paper towel, or a kitchen towel, take hold of the membrane and slowly pull it off. For a picture, go here. Rub a little liquid smoke over the ribs. Sprinkle the ribs with the rub. Place on a baking pan and cover with plastic wrap. Place in fridge for 8 to 24 hours. ( I have skipped this step before, and cooked the ribs right away, and you will still have really tender ribs. But waiting longer gives the rub flavors longer to penetrate the meat.)

3. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Remove the plastic wrap from the ribs, and allow them to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Place ribs fat side up on baking pan. Cover pan well with aluminum foil, or wrap the ribs in foil, either way. Place baking pan with ribs into the oven and bake for
 2-2 1/2 hours.

4. Remove the ribs from the oven. Pull back the foil and insert a paring knife between the bones into the thickest piece of meat. If the knife goes in easily and the meat feels tender, then the ribs are ready for the BBQ sauce. If the ribs need more cooking time, cover with the foil and cook for 30 more minutes.

5. When done, remove the ribs from the oven. Pour off any accumulated juices. Brush BBQ sauce liberally all over the ribs. Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees. Place ribs back in oven, uncovered. Bake for 20-30 minutes, turning the ribs over once, until the sauce is sticky. Baste again if desired and remove from oven. Let ribs rest about 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

For an easy rub, I mixed together 2 teaspoons sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 2 teaspoons coarse salt, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Or use a purchased rub, if desired.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Guacamole Dip

 Raise your hand if you like Guacamole! I sure do. I'm addicted to avocados anyway, so when you add in all the other goodies and chips, well, Guacamole is heaven on a chip. Creamy or chunky, I don't care, I'll take it please. My husband doesn't like it at all, but I don't mind. I just don't have to share it! Hehe.
I've had this recipe for many years and have found that you really have to go by taste when making Guacamole Dip. Avocados come in different sizes, as do tomatoes, so following the recipe to a tee is difficult. If you have made this dip before you already know this, but if you are making it for the first time, you have to learn to adjust the recipe to you personal likes. When avocado are large, I use more tomato, when they are small I use less tomato. Just make it yours. Don't use what you don't like. Here's my recipe from the archives.
Guacamole Dip
From Lynda's Recipe Box

2 ripe avocados
1 tomato, diced- I used 1 Roma this time
1/2 of a small onion, diced, or to taste-I only used about 2 tablespoons
1 or 2 small jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced-sometimes I use pickled jalapenos
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, or to taste- Don't leave this out; it not only adds flavor, but helps to keep the avocado from turning brown.
1 clove garlic, minced-optional (I don't use)
1/4 -1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste
about 2 tablespoons cilantro, optional

Cut the avocados in half length-wise, and using a spoon scoop out each half and put in a bowl. Mash well with a fork. Add the remaing ingredients and stir. Place plastic wrap right on top of the dip to seal out any air. (Guacamole will turn dark as it is exposed to air.) Chill dip well, and serve with tortilla chips. Enjoy!
Try this Fresh Orange Guacamole, for a different twist.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Oven Roasted Carrots

My favorite way to prepare many vegetables is by roasting them in the oven. It gives them a sweetness that they may not have otherwise. Carrots are fantastic roasted, either until they are tender crisp, or even until more tender. The only thing you have to be careful of is not to burn them. Since they have a naturally high sugar content, carrots will burn if roasted too long, or at too high a temperature. If you haven't tried roasting carrots yet, now is the time to try. I think you'll love their great flavor, plus they are so healthy and very reasonably priced. Carrots are a very affordable side dish, which will go with about anything. Here's the easy method.

Oven Roasted Carrots
1 pound carrots, peeled, and sliced about 1/2-3/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
fresh parsley, optional, as a garnish-I like them with fresh parsley the best, but used thyme this time

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place sliced carrots on a baking dish, add the Olive oil, and stir carrots to coat with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven 30 minutes or more, depending on how large you carrots are. I roasted these large carrots about 35 minutes. Check them several times and turn with a spatula. Remove from oven when done. Enjoy!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Homemade Margherita Pizza and an Almost Disaster!

 I have posted this pizza recipe before, but wanted to again so I could make a beautiful Margherita Pizza. But I almost had a calamity instead. I like to bake pizza on my pizza stone because it really makes the crust crisp and delicious, but I was in a hurry the other evening and almost lost my pizza on the oven floor! I use a method of placing the pizza dough on parchment paper and then laying it on the backside of a large baking sheet, where I top the pizza. Then I carefully grab hold of the parchment and guide the pizza onto the pizza stone. Yes, I saw this done on Cook's Country one time, and it really does work, but I was too hurried I guess. Actually my daughter made pizza at her home a couple of weeks ago, and she did drop part of hers down in the ovens elements! So, anyway, my pizza looks a bit messy on the crust for good reason. The next time I make this delicious pizza I'll update the photo with a less messy pizza. Messy or not, it was fantastic tasting though.
I've posted this recipe before; it is from Bobby Flay and I love it still. The dough is so easy to mix up and it is a breeze to work with. Not to mention we love the flavor too. It will make 2 pizzas, so besides my yummy Marherita Pizza, I made a more traditional pizza for my husband. That pizza was made with pepperoni, turkey Italian sausage, green bell pepper, and red onion. It was fantastic as well. Hope you'll give it a try.

Homemade Margherita Pizza
from Bobby Flay in Parade Magazine
Bread flour will give you a crisper crust, but all purpose flour can be used, resulting in a chewier crust.
Makes 2 crusts!

Directions for dough:
3 1/2 - 4 cups of bread flour, or all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 envelope yeast- I use the quick rise
1 1/2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees F.)
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a bowl add 3 1/2 cups of the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast and whisk together. Stir in the water and the olive oil and stir until the dough forms a ball. If too sticky, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time. If dough is too dry add 1 tablespoon water. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until dough forms a smooth ball. Grease a large bowl with olive oil and place dough in bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. After it has risen, turn dough out and cut in half. Cover and let rest 10minutes.

Pizza Sauce Directions:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 of an onion
2 cloves garlic,minced or pressed
pinch of red chili flakes
28 ounce can of good quality whole, canned tomatoes
1/4- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil, or 2 tablespoons fresh basil
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, saute the onion in the olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes until it is soft; add the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the whole tomatoes, but crush them, and stir in the herbs and sugar. Cook about 20 minutes until thickened; remove from heat. This sauce can be made a day ahead of when you need it. It's great time saver to have the sauce done when you are ready to make the pizza.

To make a Margherita Pizza, you'll also need an 8 ounce ball of fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. (If using a pizza stone, place it in the oven on the middle rack and then turn oven on. Preheat the stone for 25-30 minutes).
Take 1/2 half of the pizza dough and roll it out with a rolling pin into about a 12-14 inch crust. I've also tried making a pizza that was almost too large for my stone, which caused a mess, so go smaller than you pizza pan or stone. A 12-13 inch crust is perfect for my 15 inch stone. If you are using a pizza pan, just roll the dough to fit your pan. Smooth some sauce over the dough. Cut the ball of fresh mozzarella into thin slices and place around the pizza. Place pizza in oven and bake for about 10 minutes, until cheese it bubbly. Remove from oven,  and add some leaves of fresh basil to the top of the pizza. You can use whole leaves, or a chiffonade of basil leaves.
Bake remaining pizza. Enjoy!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Chicken with Orzo, Asparagus, and Parmesan

 This tasty meal is a quick cooking dish that will be ready to be put on the table in very short time, as long as you have everything prepped. You have well seasoned chicken breasts, with tender orzo and asparagus that has been flavored with thyme, lemon and Parmesan cheese. It really is a very good weeknight meal for two people. I've made this Chicken with Orzo a couple of times now, so my husband and I both enjoy it The recipe is one of  Cook's Illustrated, and has it's share of touches that are to make this dish more flavorful. After it cooks, you are supposed to mix more oil, lemon zest and garlic and drizzle over the finished dish. I have omitted that step, because fresh garlic doesn't agree with me. I added the extra garlic instead earlier in the cooking. The chicken breasts are dredged in flour and sauteed in the skillet just until brown, and then it is transferred to the oven to finish cooking. This time I omitted coating the chicken with flour, but the chicken didn't have as much flavor, so back to the flour next time.
Chicken with Orzo, Asparagus, and Parmesan
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated  - Serves 2
(Israeli Couscous can be substituted for the orzo, if desired)

1/4 cup flour
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts-about 5 to 6 ounces each
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper
3/4 cup orzo
3 tablespoons finely diced red onion -Cook's used a diced shallot
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
8 ounces asparagus, tough ends trimmed, and cut into 1 inch lengths
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Place flour in a dish. Pat the chicken breast dry with a paper towel. Season well with salt and black pepper. Dredge the chicken in flour and shake off excess.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a non stick 10 inch skillet, over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a baking pan and place in the oven to finish cooking, about 5-10 minutes.
4. As chicken bakes, add 1 more tablespoon of oil to the skillet along with the orzo.  Toast the orzo until golden about 2 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, thyme, and lemon zest to the skillet and stir about 30seconds until fragrant.
5. Pour the chicken broth in pan and scape up any brown bits. Stir over low heat for about 4 minutes. Add the asparagus, stir and cover the skillet with a lid. Cook until asparagus is crisp tender and orzo is al dente, 4-6 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Remove pan from heat. Stir the lemon juice and the Parmesan cheese into the orzo. Divide between 2 plates and top with the chicken. Garnish with fresh thyme and lemon zest if desired. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Key" Lime Pie

 Cool, creamy, tart and extremely delicious; that's how I describe this wonderful pie. But don't be deceived, I didn't use real Key limes, because I couldn't get them. Every time I've looked for them lately, the supermarkets in my town were out. So I gave in and bought Persian limes. I have no patience is what it boils down to. If I can't find what I want, I find a substitute.
 However, this pie was still awesome. From the crisp graham cracker crust to the cool filling, I slowly savored each bite. My husband, on the other hand, wasn't as enamored with this pie as I was. That just left more for me! This pie was more tart than a real Key Lime Pie, so I'm going to continue my search for the real thing. Real Key Limes are a bit sweeter I think, than the Persian limes. I'll update this post after I've made the "real" thing.
"Key" Lime Pie
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Crust Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups graham-cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 tablespoons sugar

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice- Key limes if you can find them
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
1 tablespoon sugar- won't need this if using Key limes

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar. Press into a 9 inch pie plate, and bake for about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack and cool completely.
2. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, sugar, if using, and the lime juice. Pour into cooled, prepared crust.
3. Return the pie to the oven, and bake until the center is set but still quivers when the pan is nudged, about 15 to 17 minutes. Let cool completely.
4. Before serving, combine the cream and 3 tablespoons powdered sugar in a large bowl. Mix with an electric mixer until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. Serve with the pie.
Note: The pie cuts more cleanly if it is cooled in the refrigerator.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

I've always loved using leftover ham in scalloped potatoes for a delicious, hearty casserole. I had 2 cups of ham pieces leftover from my Easter ham, so this casserole was born today. It was creamy and cheesy and had chunks of ham scattered throughout it. Potatoes are either sliced with a mandolin, or very thinly sliced by hand with a sharp knife. The only change I will make next time is too add more milk for just a bit more sauce, a change I added to the recipe. Other than that, this was a very tasty dish. Got Leftover ham? Give this a try.

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham
From Lynda's Recipe Box
I used unpeeled Yukon Gold potatoes. When I use russets, I always peel them because they have a thicker peel.

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, or russet potatoes
2 cups diced ham
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk-I used 2%
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon flour
1/2 onion, diced
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese- I used Colby/Jack
salt to taste
pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Since I used Yukon Gold potatoes, I left the peels on. If using russets, they need to be peeled. So, slice all the potatoes, using a mandolin or a knife. In a 12 inch skillet, melt the butter and add in the diced onion. Saute the onion for about 2 minutes, then sprinkle in the flour. Stir and cook for about 1 minute. Pour the milk into the skillet and stir until the mixture begins to thicken. Add in the ham, and heat one minute. Add the cream, and also the potatoes. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if needed. Butter a 9x13 inch baking dish. Pour half of the potato mixture into the baking dish. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Top with remainder of the potato and cream mixture. Top with the remaining cheese. Cover dish well with aluminum foil. Bake for 50 minutes covered. Then, uncover the pan and bake for another 10-15 minutes until cheese is bubbly and potatoes are done. Remove from oven and enjoy!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Happy Easter! And some last minute food ideas.

To those of my readers who are celebrating Easter as I do, I wish you a blessed Easter!

I'm busy cooking for a family dinner tomorrow evening. Since my kids are all married, they have other family dinners to attend besides ours. But we are so looking forward to having kids, spouses and grand kids here.
If you are needing some last minute food idea for side dishes, check these out.
Maybe you are looking for another dessert idea? I have those too.
Or maybe brunch is your big celebration? Here's brunch ideas.
Maybe you have certain ingredients in mind. You can scroll down my right side bar, and find the Labels, which lists main ingredients in my dishes.

If you have your meal all figured out, Congratulations! Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Strawberry Mousse

 Strawberry season is almost here and I can't hardly wait! I know, strawberries have been in the supermarkets for awhile now, but they are just not as flavorful as local, home grown berries. I've had this recipe for Strawberry Mousse bookmarked for awhile, trying to wait until I could get my hands on some beautiful local berries. But I became impatient this week. I made it with the store bought berries. And it was still creamy and delish. It has a nice creamy and light texture, just as I hoped. That means that it will be fantastic made with local berries! I had to add a bit more sugar, as my berries weren't as sweet as home grown will be. My husband was less enthusiastic about this recipe-he thinks it needs more cream! But he always buries his desserts in whipped cream, so I'm not sure his opinion matters here! haha!
This recipe is so easy. The hardest part is waiting for it to chill so you can eat it! Give it a try if you love strawberries like I do.
Strawberry Mousse
Adapted from a Family Circle recipe here.

1 envelope unflavored gelatin- I used Knox gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
2 cups hulled, sliced strawberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 more tablespoons (my addition)
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
strawberries for garnish

1. Add water to small saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand for 1 minute to soften. Stir mixture over low heat until gelatin is dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
2. Placed hulled, sliced strawberries, all the granulated sugar and gelatin mixture into a food processor or blender. Whirl to puree. Pour into a bowl and chill until mixture just begins to mound when dropped from a spoon. I chilled it for about 30 minutes, although the recipe said to chill 1 hour. Don't over chill or the mixture won't fold into the cream easily.
3. Beat the cream and confectioners sugar in a chilled bowl until soft peaks form. Stir about 1/4 of the cream into strawberry mixture. Then gently fold in the remaining cream, just until combined, taking care not to over stir.
4. Spoon the mousse into 6 dessert glasses, dividing evenly. I actually had to use 7 glasses, and they were pretty full. Chill 2 hours before serving. I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Oven Roasted Asparagus

I'm always so happy to see fresh asparagus at my supermarket early in spring. It's delicious and so easy to cook, that I probably fix it too often. I love serving it for Easter too. When oven-roasted, this healthy veggie is full of flavor and it bakes in just a few short minutes. If you haven't tried this method, it's time you did! It's so easy you really don't need a recipe, but here are some guidelines.

Oven-Roasted Asparagus
From Lynda's Recipe Box

1 pound asparagus- I only used 1/2 pound for 2 of us
Coarse Salt
Olive oil
Wash and dry the asparagus and spread it out on a baking sheet.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Sprinkle the asparagus with olive oil. It will depend on how mush you are cooking, but for 1 pound I usually use 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss together until asparagus is oil covered. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bake until asparagus if tender crisp, or to desired tenderness. (I poke it with a fork.) I baked these spears 9 minutes, but it often takes longer is the spears are larger. Watch carefully! Enjoy!
Note: Fresh lemon juice squeezed over the asparagus after it comes out of the oven adds some great flavor too.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fresh Broccoli and Califlower Salad

My husband wanted me to make this salad last week, so it was an opportunity to re post this recipe that was one of my firsts posts when I started my blog. This is another delicious old recipe from years ago. My grandmother introduced this wonderful, fresh salad to us and it became a most requested dish at our family gatherings, especially Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you don't like uncooked veggies, you may not want to read further, but we love our fresh, crisp veggies here. This Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad is dressed in a tasty ranch style dressing and stays crisp for a couple of days. It makes a good sized salad though, so it's perfect when you need to feed a crowd. Whenever I make it, I think of my sweet, wonderful grandmother, who lived to be 92 years old. I feel so blessed to have had my grandmother for so many years and to have so many wonderful memories of her. We will always enjoy this salad of hers. I hope some of you will give it a try also.

Fresh Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad
From Lynda's Recipe box and my grandmother

1 head of cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets(bite size pieces)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1 red onion, diced-or I like to use Vidalia onion when available
1 green bell pepper, large dice
2 stalks celery, sliced- I don't always use this
1 8 ounce carton of sour cream- I use low fat
1 cup mayo-I actually measure the mayo into the empty sour cream container, just like my grandma did
1 package Hidden Valley dressing mix-the dry mix

Cut all vegetables into a large bowl. Mix sour cream, mayo and dry Hidden Valley  dressing mix in a bowl. Add dressing to vegetables and stir until well incorporated. The dressing will be thick at first. Keep refrigerated. Will stay fresh for a couple of days. Enjoy!