Saturday, July 26, 2014

Super Stuffed Cheddar & Sausage Twice Baked Potatoes

I'm back after a brief hiatus! Wish I could say I was taking a luxurious vacation, but one day smoke started coming out the side of my laptop and it's taken my husband this long to diagnose, find the part, and get it installed.

I've been cooking yummy things this summer! You know that Kelis song, "Milkshakes"? Well, my twice baked potatoes bring all the boys to our backyard.  Truly.  When my husband's friends find out I'm making these, people start inviting themselves over.  When I'm showing off, I make this as a side when we're grilling steaks.  But honestly, this could easily be a main dish.  When we reheat it for leftovers, it is our main dish. And it is just as awesome the next day!  I adapted this from a slightly more fancy Emeril recipe that uses Andouille sausage and white cheddar, but I think my version is better.  Naturally.  

Ready to bring some boys to the yard? 

(forgive my phone picture!!)

8 large baking potatoes (bigger the better!)
Extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 large onion, very thinly sliced
1/2 lb. Italian sausage
1 stick butter
1 C. sour cream
2 C. sharp cheddar, shredded
Parsley (optional - it's just for color)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Wash, scrub, and dry the potatoes.  Drizzle potatoes with olive oil.  Season all sides of the potatoes with salt and pepper - don't be skimpy!  Place on baking sheet and bake for about an hour. Remove from oven and let cool completely - you'll be sorry later if you don't!  While the potatoes are baking, slowly caramelize the onions.  In a pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Once the oil is hot, add the onions. Season with salt and pepper.  Stir occasionally until onions are browned but not burned, about 10-15 minutes.  Don't rush it by turning the heat up! Remove onions to a plate.  Then brown the Italian sausage and drain.  Once the potatoes are cooled, cut just the top 1/4th of each potato.  Use a spoon to scoop the potato flesh into a bowl.  It's better to leave a little bit of flesh in there - if you get too close to the skin you'll inevitably dig too far and have a hole for the filling to seep out of.  To the bowl with the potato filling, add the onions, sausage, softened butter, sour cream, and 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the cheese.  Add the parsley if you're using it.  Mix well, add salt and pepper to taste.  Scoop that deliciousness into the potato skins, piling it nice and high! Remember, we're making super stuffed potatoes.  Heap the remaining cheddar cheese on top of that. Place back on the baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until potatoes are warmed and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.  Serve hot and enjoy the praise.  

By the way, I really hope you saved the tops of the potatoes! There will be filling left, and while the stuffed potatoes are baking you should reward your hard work by piling some of that leftover filling onto the tops and devouring at least one...maybe two.  If you love your family members, offer them one too. If you don't offer, they'll steal them anyways. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Spinach Salad with Bacon Dressing

This is one of my most popular pins on Pinterest.  Spinach used to be a forbidden word in this house, but over the years I've learned how to make it more palatable to my veggie-hating family.  Personally, I love spinach in nearly any form and I could eat a spinach salad every day.  After 15 years of camouflaging spinach and hiding in various dishes, now my teenager daughter begs me to make my famous spinach rolls!  And even my picky husband, who has an aversion to anything green, loves this spinach salad, of all things!  It's a perfect summer dish:

Allow me to present my version of the Pioneer Woman's Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing! It's to die for.  If you think salads should only be healthy, you may want to avert your eyes.....

Hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
Bacon, cooked & crumbled - save those bacon drippings if you don't have a jar of magical bacon drippings in the fridge*
1 red onion, sliced thinly
Sliced fresh mushrooms
Swiss cheese, shredded
Baby spinach
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper to taste

Over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of bacon grease to a skillet.  Add onion and slowly caramelize, moving them around every couple minutes - slowly, people! It takes patience.  Otherwise they're going to be charred and not very yummy.  I've learned this the hard way.  After about 15-20 minutes, remove them to a plate.  Then do the same thing to the mushrooms, though they won't take as long, about 5-7 minutes. Remove them to a plate as well.

Now for the real magic...the dressing! In the same skillet, add 3 more tablespoons of bacon grease.  Add vinegar, sugar, honey, and Dijon mustard. Whisk the mixture until it's nice & warm.  Add salt & pepper to taste, but go light on the is bacon, after all.

Assemble the salad: Spinach, onions, mushrooms, eggs, bacon, Swiss cheese....and then pour that magical bacon-y dressing goodness all over the top.  Swoon and pretend you're being healthy.  You are eating spinach after all, right?

*Doesn't everyone keep a mason jar of bacon fat in the fridge? You should if you're not! Every time you make bacon, just let that fat cool a bit and pour it into your jar of awesomeness.  Use it in place of butter or oil whenever you want something jazzed up a bit.  It is FANTASTIC when you're making scrambled eggs. Or browning thin chicken breasts for a sandwich.  Or caramelizing onions.  The possibilities are endless. People will notice, but they won't know what it is....they just know it's gooooood.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Second Chance Italian Chicken Bake

I have had my fair share of failures in the kitchen.  My husband loves telling the story of the first meal I made for him - it's pretty damn funny.  For my first cooking endeavor, I may have overestimated my ability in the kitchen and tried to make several things at once, all of which were pretty complicated. The kitchen was a war zone.  Some things were burned, other things underdone. In my defense, I tried making it in a 24 year old bachelor's kitchen, only to discover he had about 3 pans total and was living on pizza, Chinese takeout, and Chicken Voila.  I made it my mission to learn how to cook after that endeavor.

Last night, I had another failure, though less spectacular.  I made this Crockpot Chicken Parmesan recipe with pretty high expectations, only to be completely underwhelmed.  It was fine, but not sure I'll ever make it again.  And it made a TON.  I couldn't throw it all away, I knew I could save it somehow.  I found a photo on Pinterest with a link that didn't work, but it inspired me to salvage all of the tomatoey chicken goodness.  When life gives you sub-par Crockpot Chicken Parmesan, make this instead:

These are NOT my photos - these are from the broken link on Pinterest.  My cooked chicken was already swimming in a tomato sauce, so I improvised.  So my sauce was more pink-tinged rather than white.  If you're making this and don't have last night's tomatoey chicken rejects to use, I would half a bunch of cherry tomatoes and toss those in instead.  But I really liked it this way, so maybe I'll do it like this the next time too?  Here's what I came up with:

2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz. cream cheese
1 C. sour cream
1 C. whole milk
1/2 C. Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 C. cooked chicken (from last night's failed recipe)
10 oz. pasta, whatever shape you have in your cupboard, cooked al dente per package
2 C. fresh spinach, stems removed and roughly chopped
2 C. mozzarella cheese, shredded
fresh basil for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter in large pan.  Add onion and garlic, cook for 2-3 minutes until onions are translucent.  Add cream cheese, stir until it's pretty much melted down.  Add sour cream, stir to combine.  Add milk, stir to combine.  Add Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper, stir to combine.  In a large mixing bowl, add cooked pasta, cooked chicken, spinach, white sauce, and 1 C. mozzarella cheese.  Stir to combine and transfer to baking pan. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella cheese over top.  Cover with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is melted.  Serve garnished with fresh basil and a little extra Parmesan. 

We enjoyed this way more than the original chicken recipe from last night, that's for sure - everything is made better with pasta and cheese, right? 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Pickle Wrap Dip

Pickle wraps are a tradition at my family's Christmas gatherings.  Every Christmas Eve, my cousins and I are battling it out for the pickle wraps and have been for decades. We make ours with ham, cream cheese, and dill pickles.  I've seen other versions with dried beef, but that kind of skeeves me out.  My sister-in-law recently showed up with this pickle wrap DIP - what a great idea! This way you get more cream cheese, which is the best part as far as I'm concerned, and you don't have to painstakingly assemble and slice each one.  She's a genius, that one. 

Ready to make some magic? 

16 ounces cream cheese, softened
12 ounces thinly sliced deli ham, chopped
16 ounces baby dill pickles, drained, diced
Ritz crackers

Mix the cream cheese, ham, and pickles in a bowl.  Serve with Ritz crackers. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Cottage Cheese with Avocado, Cherry Tomatoes, and Cucumbers

Ready for another protein packed, healthy, delicious option for lunch? This has been rocking my world for the last month:

So much good stuff in one bowl - low fat cottage cheese, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, slices of avocado.  I like to sprinkle just a little salt and pepper on top, too.  It is very filling and absolutely delicious!  One day I also had some cilantro I wanted to use up and tossed that in there too.  Put in whatever makes your skirt fly up! Maybe some green pepper slices? Wrap it up into lettuce leaves? You can't go wrong.  Avocado makes the world a better place. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cheesecake Strawberries

I just LOVE making things that are simple but delicious.  This isn't even a recipe, but I guarantee if you take them to a party they will be gone in no time. 

Fresh strawberries - washed, hulled, and a little bit of the bottoms sliced off so they stand up
Philadelphia Cream Cheese cheesecake filling 
Crushed graham crackers

Put cheesecake filling into a gallon-sized plastic bag.  Cut off a small corner of bag.  Pipe filling into strawberries.  Sprinkle graham crackers over top.  Sit back and watch them disappear, absorbing the praise that is inevitably coming your way. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hummus, Tomato, and Avocado Toasts

As I've mentioned before, I like to eat light for breakfast and lunch.  I'm not usually ravenous during the day and I like to eat well at dinner.  Eating light does NOT mean eating tasteless rice cakes.  My go-to daytime meals are often ones that I find myself craving.  This is one of my favorite lunches - it's full of protein, tastes fantastic, and is easy for me to pack and prepare in the sad kitchen at my office. 

1 english muffin, split 
hummus - any flavor, but I like roasted garlic
tomato slices
avocado slices

Lightly toast muffin and spread with hummus - I like it sort of thick.  Add a slice of tomato and slices of avocado.  Eat far away from judgmental co-workers, as it's sort of messy.  But yuuuummmmmy!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Charlie Boys

In my college town, there's this fantastic dive bar that is filled with old timers, college students, and everyone else in between. They serve beer in these ginormous frosted glasses called schooners and serve only one thing - Charlie Boys.  These are a close relation to loose meat sandwiches, maid rites, whatever they call them in your region.  But these are really peppery and stand apart from the crowd of loose meat sandwich recipes.  I can't eat one of these without having a beer.  If I'm watching my carbs, I'll put just half of a bun in the bottom of a bowl, dress it up just how I like it, and eat it with a fork.  Just as good.

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. salt
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef
1 tsp. yellow mustard
1 Tbsp. horseradish
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. black pepper (you can add more if you like pepper!)

Pour oil into a cast iron skillet and sprinkle salt into the oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic, cook 2 minutes.  Add ground beef and brown, breaking the meat into very small bits as it cooks.  Add mustard, horseradish, vinegar, sugar, black pepper, and enough water to just barely cover the mixture.  Mix well and bring to a boil.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all the water has boiled away - this usually takes about 15 minutes, so be patient.  Serve on hamburger buns.  

*If you prefer your loosemeats to not be so loose, you can stir in a little Wondra flour or cornstarch at the end of cooking.  I insist on eating mine with a slice of American cheese, mustard, ketchup, and pickles.  Insanely good. Serve with hamburger buns.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Simple, Perfect Pan Roasted Chicken Thighs

This recipe is simple.  Cheap ingredients, common ingredients, quick to prepare, but BIG on taste.  Every time we make this, we can't believe it's only seasoned with salt and pepper.  I would strongly recommend using a cast iron skillet for this one - you can't beat the browning of an iron skillet. 

From Bon Appetit - 

Simple, Perfect Pan Roasted Chicken Thighs

6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 2 1/4 pounds) 
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper 
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 475°. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 12" cast-iron or heavy nonstick skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Nestle chicken in skillet, skin side down, and cook 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-high; continue cooking skin side down, occasionally rearranging chicken thighs and rotating pan to evenly distribute heat, until fat renders and skin is golden brown, about 12 minutes.  Transfer skillet to oven and cook 13 more minutes. Flip chicken; continue cooking until skin crisps and meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate; let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Butterfinger Poke Cake

I'm not a big dessert eater, but my co-workers sure are.  We had a potluck at work recently and I came across this recipe for Butterfinger Poke Cake on Plain Chicken's blog.  The whole thing was gone in no time, much to the dismay of my husband who was hoping to have some of the leftovers.  So I had to make another one the very next weekend when we went to my in-laws' house to celebrate my FIL's birthday!  Again, gone in no time.  If you like Butterfingers, you will love this!

1 box yellow cake mix, plus ingredients to make the cake
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 jar Smucker's caramel ice cream topping
1 (8oz) tub Cool Whip
4 regular sized Butterfingers, crushed 

Bake cake in a 9x13-inch pan according to direction on the package.  While cake is baking, mix milk and caramel topping until well blended. When the cake is done and while it's still hot, poke holes in it with a fork or straw. Pour milk mixture over the cake. Allow cake to cool completely.  Sprinkle two candy bars over cake. Spread Cool Whip over the top, then sprinkle the remaining candy bars on top. Chill until serving.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Easy Peasy Sausage Egg Bake

There are a zillion egg bake recipes, but 99% of them are kind of blah and tasteless.  I found this one on Pinterest and it is my new go-to egg bake recipe.  It is full of flavor, simple to make, and takes very little time to bake. When I'm HANGRY (hangry = more than hungry) in the morning, I don't want to wait 2 hours to eat. Nor do my little minions.  Give this one a try, you'll be so glad you did!

1 (8 oz) can refrigerated crescent rolls (I love those seamless creation ones that Pillsbury has)
1 lb. breakfast sausage
2 c. mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 eggs, beaten
3/4 C. milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Crumble and cook sausage, drain.  Spray 13 x 9 inch baking dish with cooking spray and line bottom with crescent roll dough. If you don't have the seamless variety, firmly press perforations to seal. Sprinkle with sausage, then cheese.  Combine remaining ingredients in medium bowl until blended, pour over sausage.  Bake uncovered 15 minutes or until set.  Cut into squares and serve.  

The leftovers are good reheated, too! 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tortellini Soup

We love the Olive Garden.  The soups and bread sticks moreso than the pasta dishes.  When it comes to pasta, I think I do a better job at home - that way I can make it exactly the way I like and for a fraction of the cost.  The first thing my husband said when he tried this soup that I found on Pinterest was that it reminded him of his favorite soup at the Olive Garden.

Recipe adapted from Little Fellows:

1 (19oz) bag of frozen cheese tortellini 
1 small bag of fresh spinach
2 (14.5 oz) cans of Italian style diced tomatoes, drained
1 block (8 oz) of cream cheese, softened
1 lb. sausage, cooked and crumbled (I've used regular and Italian, both are good)
3-4 cups of chicken broth (start with 3, add 1 more if it looks like it needs it)

Place all ingredients in crockpot insert.  Cook on low 4 hours.  Before stirring, make cornstarch slurry by mixing 2 tsp. cornstarch with 2 tsp. water.  Stir into soup and stir occassionally until desired thickness.   

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mississippi Roast

My husband is a big carnivore.  Yours probably is as well.  My mother-in-law loves to tell the story of when he was about 5 years old and declared that he "didn't trust nothing green!"  I, on the other hand, am just as happy eating a vegetarian meal as I am eating a well-prepared steak.  This recipe, however, knocked my SOCKS off.  I want to eat it every. Single. Day.  I beg you - please make it as written the first time and don't balk at the peppers.  It is NOT spicy.  You can discard those little peppers at the end and pretend it never ever touched your food, I promise.

Props to Table for Two for sharing this.  It's awesome.  The leftovers are even better, and I get skeeved out by eating leftover meat.  I called dibs on the leftovers, the hubs wanted to fight me for them.

3 lbs. chuck roast
1 envelope dry ranch dressing (1 oz)
1 envelope dry au jus mix (1 oz)
6 Tbsp. butter
1/4 C. water
5-6 jarred pepperoncini peppers

Add water to crockpot.  Place the roast on top.  Sprinkle the dry ranch dressing on top of the meat, then the dry au jus.  Dot with butter.  Place peppers around the roast.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  When it's done, it will fall apart.  Proceed to swoon. 

You could also shred this with two forks and make the BEST drip beef sandwiches out of it!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Crockpot Beef Stew

Baby, it's COLD outside.  Iowa winters suck.  I tend to make a lot of soups and stews in the winter, but I'm really picky about my beef stew.  I've tried a million recipes, none of which I've been ecstatic with.  I came across this one on Pinterest and doctored it up.  I was very pleased with the results, I hope you will be too! 

2 lb. beef stew meat, cut into cubes
1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
4 medium potatoes, cut into chunks (I like to leave the skin on)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (8 oz) container fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 bay leaf
2 envelopes dry brown gravy
1 envelope McCormick beef stew seasoning
1 C. red wine
2 tsp. Kitchen Bouquet
3-4 C. beef broth

Mix meat, veggies, and seasoning ingredients into crockpot insert.  Pour in enough beef broth so that everything is submerged.  Cook on high 4-6 hours or low 6-8 hours.  To thicken, make a cornstarch slurry by mixing 2 tsp. cornstarch with 2 tsp. water - pour into stew and stir occasionally until stew has thickened to desired consistency.