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.