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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Caprese on a Stick

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How cute are these? We love the tomato, basil, and mozzarella combination in any form! This time, I wanted to bring caprese salad to a potluck picnic, but didn't want to deal with the potential disaster of tomatoes and mozzarella sliding all over my car on the ride there. Insert: toothpicks! These mini appetizers were so cute AND kept my car safe!

Caprese on a Stick
-grape tomatoes
-fresh mozzarella
-fresh basil leaves

1. On each toothpick, skewer a tomato, a chunk of mozzarella, and one or two basil leaves.
2. Refrigerate until serving.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Mexican Couscous Dinner

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(I promise there's couscous hiding under all of those bright veggies! :))

As I mentioned the other day, my friend Katie recently got back from an extended vacation, and we had much to catch up on. She offered to bring ingredients for dinner, so that we could cook while we chatted. This is my kind of friend-date :), she knows me so well! We had a great time working together in the kitchen, chopping, stirring, and filling each other in on the past few weeks.

Not only was the company good, but the meal was too. Katie adapted this recipe from Simple Suppers and it turned out fabulously. I love meals like this where you can start with a base (here, couscous and mexican-spiced black beans) and then vary based on your preferences. This one was perfect accompanied by avocado, corn, and tomatoes, but feel free to get creative with your favorite toppings!

Thanks again Katie--this will definitely be a repeat in the McLaury kitchen!

Mexican Couscous Dinner
adapted from Simple Suppers

-1 box couscous
-2 cans black beans
-1 tbsp olive oil
-3 cloves garlic, pressed
-1/2 tsp cumin
-1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
-1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
-2 ears of corn, cooked and kernels removed from the husk
-1 avocado chopped
-1 tomato chopped

1. Cook couscous according to package directions. Set aside.
2. To prepare black beans, heat olive oil in a large pan. Add garlic, cumin, and oregano and saute for 1-2 minutes. Pour in black beans and heat over medium heat until warmed through. Just before serving, stir in cilantro.
3. To serve, add desired amounts of couscous and black beans to individual bowls. Top with corn, avocado, and tomatoes.

*Looking for other great recipes from Simple Suppers? Try this creamy caper sauce or carrot salad!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blueberry Crumb Bars

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There are going to be two very, very sad members of our household when blueberry season comes to a close and we can no longer buy mass quantities of them for dirt cheap. The day is quickly approaching, and I'm already starting to dread the three long seasons without plentiful berries. Until then, though, I am taking advantage and using and eating berries as much as I can! We've had pancakes, coffee cakes, and now these bars.

I opted to make half of the recipe and now I wish I'd gone for the whole thing! These are almost like a pie in bar form. The lemon zest in the crust really adds something special and they are so, so good cold from the fridge! If you choose to make the full batch, double the below recipe (do not double the egg or lemon measurements, I kept those the same).

Blueberry Crumb Bars
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

-1/2 cup white sugar
-1/2 tsp baking powder
-1 1/2 all-purpose flour
-1 stick cold unsalted butter
-1 egg
-1/8 tsp salt
-zest & juice of one lemon
-2 cups fresh blueberries
-1/4 cup white sugar
-2 tsp cornstarch

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare an 8 x 8 inch pan.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, mix 1/2 cup sugar, flour, and baking powder. Add in salt and lemon zest. Add egg and butter and pulse until dough is a crumbly mixture (can do this all by hand with a pastry cutter or a fork if desired).
3. In a separate bowl, mix 1/4 cup sugar with lemon juice and cornstarch. Pour in blueberries and mix to coat.
4. Press half of the dough mixture into the prepared pan. Pour blueberries over the dough evenly. Top with remaining dough.
5. Bake at 375F for 35-40 minutes (until the top is slightly browned). Cool completely and store in the refrigerator until serving.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Minty Cabbage Salad

My friend Katie recently returned from her adventures abroad in Denmark, Germany, and France. She brought back with her beautiful pictures, wonderful stories, and the recipe for this salad. She actually got it from an Australian woman she met there, so this recipe is essentially global!

It's amazing how a dish with three simple ingredients can really shine, but this one does. It's bright and fresh and a versatile side dish. I had it placed on my plate next to some chopped nectarines and strawberries. When the fruit was nearly gone, I tried combining it with the salad and found it was a great addition. Next time I'm going to try mixing fruit in from the start!

Minty Cabbage Salad
recipe from Katie's Australian friend :)

-1 small head of cabbage, shredded
-1 handful mint, chopped
-1 lemon

1. Shred cabbage with a food processor or chop into small pieces. Mix with chopped mint.
2. Squeeze a lemon over the salad and mix well. Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving.
*I think adding the zest of the lemon would also be good if you really want lemony flavor!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bean Curry

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I have a bit of a spice problem. You see, my kitchen is rather small. Cute, but small. I don't have a pantry and cabinet space is limited. It's the reason my panini press is in the office, my pie plates are in the dining room, and my servingware is in the family room closet. In case you couldn't guess, a large kitchen is on our "must have" list for our next house. So it goes without saying that my spice cabinet is overflowing. I'm well aware of this and yet I can't seem to stop myself from buying new spices frequently. Garam masala was my most recent random spice purchase. Since I bought it several weeks ago, I've been meaning to make a recipe that included the spice. You know, so I could convince myself that I wasn't just wasting cabinet space. I eventually settled on this bean curry, because I already had almost all the ingredients on hand (and hey, clearing out the stuff I have means I get to go buy more!!)

This was good, really good. It might not have been the smartest choice for a 95 degree day in St. Louis, but when you're already sweating why not eat a spicy dinner and sweat some more, huh? This was a bit soupier than I anticipated, and I wished we'd had some rice to eat it over. Instead we sopped up the juices with sliced pita bread, which was also delicious. Ryan took the leftovers for lunch and said it was just as good the second day.

What other garam masala recipes can you share? I have a BIG spice jar to get working on! :)

Bean Curry
adapted from My Kitchen Cafe

-1 tbsp canola oil
-1 onion, chopped
-1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
-1 tsp freshly grated ginger
-1 large tomato, chopped
-pinch cayenne
-1/2 tsp tumeric (I omitted, that's one spice I haven't yet acquired!)
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 tsp paprika
-1 tsp garam masala
-3/4 cup half and half
-1 cup chicken broth
-1 can black-eyed peas, drained
-1-2 cups fresh spinach
-2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent. Stir in garlic and ginger and stir constantly for 30 seconds. Add tomato and cook for 2 minutes.
2. Stir in spices and stir constantly for 30 seconds. Add half and half, broth, and black-eyed peas. Reduce heat. Stir in fresh spinach. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cilantro. Serve immediately.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Peanut Butterscotch Bars

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The original name for these is "Double-Butter Bars", leading one to believe there are massive amounts of butter found in these bar cookie. Instead, there's a measly stick of butter and the double butter instead refers to the inclusion of both peanut butter and butterscotch. Ryan has always been a fan of butterscotch, but he has discovered a newfound love for peanut butter. Love may not be a strong enough word for his feelings. The boy is eating peanut butter with pretzels, peanut butter on sandwiches, peanut butter straight from the jar, and most recently, peanut butter in his cereal (Reese's peanut butter puffs no less!). So when I saw a recipe that combined both peanut butter and butterscotch, I set out to make it for him to take to poker night with the guys.

These bar cookies are good! I like that you can taste both the peanut butter AND the butterscotch (not the case with these brownies) and I especially liked the bit of crunch that the chopped peanuts add. My only complaint is that these weren't as thick and gooey as many bar cookies. They were still very moist, but a bit crumbly. Granted, I prefer when baked goods are underbaked and oozing, so I might not be the right person to ask! Ryan and the boys liked them and that's what counts!

Peanut Butterscotch Bars (Double-Butter Bars)
from Culinary in the Desert

For the bars-
-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-1 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp salt
-8 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
-1 cup creamy peanut butter
-1 cup packed brown sugar
-2 egg yolks
-2 tbsp water
-2 tsp vanilla
-1 1/2 butterscotch chips
-3/4 cup chopped peanuts

For the topping-
-2 egg whites
-1/8 tsp cream of tartar
-pinch salt
-1/2 cup packed brown sugar
-1/4 cup chopped peanuts

1. Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.
2. In a large mixing bowl with a stand mixer, beat together butter, peanut butter, and brown sugar until smooth. Mix in egg yolks separately, until just combined. Add water and vanilla.
3. Stir in dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Fold in butterscotch chips and peanuts.
4. Spread batter evenly into a greased 9 x 13 pan.
5. In a large (and clean!) mixing bowl, beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt with whisk attachment until foamy. Gradually add the brown sugar and whip until thick and glossy. Pour mixture over batter and spread evenly with a spatula. Scatter remaining peanuts over the top of the batter, pressing them lightly into the batter.
6. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until bars are golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting and serving.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tuna and White Bean Salad

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On Mondays, I'm usually motivated to cook. We typically hit up the grocery store immediately after work on Monday and something about a fridge stocked with new food gets me all excited about making dinner. Nerd much? Then, as the week goes on, my motivation starts to wane and my tiredness kicks in. That's when meals like this come into play. Simple. Fast. Easy. Did I mention fast? It literally took less than 10 minutes and dinner was on the table.

I have a lot of tuna recipes on my blog and this particular salad is probably one of my favorites. I loved the bright flavor the fresh lemon zest and juice added. If you're not a fan of tuna, I think this would also taste good with chicken as well. Stuffed in a pita pocket with romaine, this was an ideal dinner for the latter half of the week!

Tuna and White Bean Salad
adapted from Erin's Food Files

-2 cans of tuna, drained
-1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
-1 jar (12 oz.) roasted red peppers, drained and roughly chopped
-2 tbsp capers
-zest of 1 lemon
-juice of 1 lemon
-1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp pepper
-pita pockets & romaine lettuce, for serving

1. Mix tuna, beans, red peppers, lemon zest, and capers in a large bowl.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pour over tuna mixture and mix to combine.
3. Serve salad in pita pockets with romaine lettuce.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

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I'm a little bit of a sugar cookie snob. Forgive me, but it's true. You see, when you grow up eating the best sugar cookies ever, it's hard to wholeheartedly accept another kind. So instead of making other sugar cookie recipes, I just opt to make other kinds of cookies. Check it out, I have twenty-four cookies posted on this blog! Yet I was intrigued by this recipe for sour cream sugar cookies. I often find myself with half-full containers of sour cream and struggle to find recipes to finish it off. This time, I sucked it up and decided to brave a new sugar cookie.

....and I was pleasantly surprised! No, these aren't my mom's sugar cookies. But these are excellent in their own right. They're soft and chewy, almost "bready" was how Ryan described them. I would even liken them to the flavor of sugar cookie you'll find at the mall. 

I sliced my first batch a little thicker than the second and they were pretty gooey after baking. I actually preferred these, but they'll stay together better if you slice thinly. Just don't overbake--you want these babies soft! (Note--I froze one roll for a few weeks and then baked and I didn't think they were as good...I think it was a combination of not putting the wrapped dough in a freezer bag--oops--and cooking them a few minutes too long)

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
adapted from Cookie Madness 

-12 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature (I used 6 tbsp butter, 6 tbsp margarine)
-2 cups granulated sugar
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-1/4 tsp almond extract
-1 egg
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 cup room temperature sour cream (I used light)
-3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
-1 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp baking powder

1. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla and almond extracts. Add egg and salt and beat until just mixed. Stir in the sour cream.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Add to the sour cream batter and mix until just combined.
3. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes for easier handling. Divide dough into thirds and shape each third of the dough into a log (may need to flour the dough). Wrap individual logs up in wax paper, twisting the ends of wax paper to seal dough. Freeze at least 1 hour.
4. Preheat oven to 350F. Remove dough logs from wax paper. Slice into 1/4-inch pieces and place on cookie sheets. If desired, sprinkle with jimmies or sugar crystals. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown on the edges.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Spinach Black Bean Pita Pizzas

My brother-in-law Justin gets all the credit for this delicious creation. There was a day, though it's hard to remember now, when I was a little hesitant to spend any time in the kitchen (unless I was making cookies!). It was this recipe that Justin once served us, and then shared the recipe, that started to change my mind. I started to realize that cooking dinner didn't have to be fancy or difficult. Shortcuts, by way of pizza crust or pita breads, were a-okay. Fresh ingredients went a long way in making a simple meal stand out. 

Since those days I've obviously greatly expanded my skills in the kitchen (and, don't get me wrong, still have a long ways to go!). However, this remains one of my favorite meals. This was the first time we had it on pita breads instead of pizza crust, and it was just as good as the original. 

Spinach Black Bean Pita Pizzas
adapted from brother-in-law Justin

-1 can black beans
-1/2 cup fresh salsa
-1 cup shredded Mexican cheese
-2 tsp chili powder
-1 tsp cumin powder
-1/2 cup chopped onion
-1/3-1/2 cup chopped cilantro
-1-2 cups chopped fresh spinach
-4 pita breads

1. In a small bowl, mash black beans with chili powder, cumin, cilantro, and onion until they are a paste-like consistency.
2. Spread black bean mixture over pita breads. Top with salsa, cheese, and spinach
3. Bake at 400F for 10-15 minutes, until heated through.
**Other variation: Instead of pita breads, purchase a pre-made pizza crust. Top with bean mixture and topping. Bake until heated through and cheese is melted.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Secret Ingredient Chocolate Chip Cookies

These chocolate chip cookies have been on my "to make" list for a long time. I've seen plenty of blogs bragging about these cookies that use an instant pudding mix to provide the ultimate soft & chewy cookie texture. Yet somehow, my desire to try more unique cookies like cheesecake cookies and oatmeal raisinet cookies trumped the seemingly boring regular chocolate chip cookie and this recipe kept getting pushed to the back burner. But then Taylor blogged her version of these pudding chocolate chip cookies and convinced me it was time to finally give these a go.

What was I waiting for?! These are some of the BEST chocolate chip cookies I've ever had.  I don't know what it is about the pudding mix that makes magic in these cookies, but I am thankful for whoever happened upon that recipe one day. (How DOES that happen? Someone mistook their pudding mix for flour?! I digress...) I made these two days before I planned to serve them and even on the 2nd day they tasted freshly baked. Pick up a box of instant pudding and try these--you'll be amazed!

Secret Ingredient Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Greens and Chocolate
**makes 4 dozen cookies

-2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
-3/4 cup brown sugar
-1/4 cup granulated sugar
-2 eggs
-1 tsp vanilla
-2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
-1 packet instant vanilla pudding (I used a large 5.1 oz. box, but you can use the smaller one as well)
-1 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp salt
-2 cups chocolate chips (this makes for very chock-full cookies. If you prefer a higher cookie to chocolate ratio, decrease the amount of chips!)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Cream butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs and continue to beat. Mix in the pudding mix until fully combined.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
4. Drop tablespoons of dough onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

This post is linked to Eat at Home.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Southwestern Chicken Salad

Though 5 of us took care of most of the grilled chicken, I was still left with some leftover. Thankfully, when I saw my grandma over the 4th of July , she gave me a recipe to try that needed some precooked chicken. I wholeheartedly trust my grandma's advice when it comes to recipes, so I had no doubt this would be a tasty salad. This was similar to my favorite Mexican salad, but even easier to put together and perfect for a rushed weeknight.

This recipe is adopted from Real Simple and can easily be adapted to fit your tastes or preferred ingredients. My variation is below, but my grandma mentioned including tomatoes in hers and I know my sister added corn to hers. I wanted to include both, but my refrigerator wasn't as well stocked as I originally thought! Even so, Ryan cleaned his plate and got up from the table declaring "good dinner Nat". Success.

PS. I think this is my new favorite dressing! I LOVED it and will definitely make it again for other salads!

Southwest Chicken Salad
adapted from Real Simple
*makes 2 large dinner salads

-2 heads of romaine, chopped
-1 cup cooked, shredded chicken
-1 sliced red bell pepper
-1/2 cup canned (& rinsed) black beans
-1/3 cup light sour cream
-1 lime, juiced
-1/4 tsp chili powder
-1/4 tsp salt
-tortilla chips (optional)
-feta cheese (optional)

1. Divide romaine among two plates. Top with chicken, bell pepper, and black beans.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, lime juice, chili powder, and salt. Pour dressing evenly over salads.
3. If desired, top salads with crushed tortilla chips and feta cheese.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Twelve in Ten Challenge: Whole Chicken on the Grill

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For our Twelve in Ten challenge this month, we decided to tackle the goal of making a new meat. While chicken is certainly not a new meat for us to cook, neither of us had ever bought and cooked a whole chicken. Being that it's July in St. Louis, roasting a chicken in our oven sounded sweaty...so we instead opted to stick the whole thing on the grill.

I did a few searches online and decided this grilled chicken recipe from Cooking Light sounded like a winner. If we're being honest, I have to admit, this month's challenge ended up being more of Ryan's than my own. Aside from selecting the recipe and offering (unsolicited) advice, I did little by way of actually cooking the chicken. But this challenge is a means to broaden both of our skills and experiences, so I was okay with taking the backseat here...especially after I saw him actually having to manhandle the 4 lb bird!

Things started out a little shaky, with the chicken almost immediately setting fire. Thankfully the initial five minutes were not reminiscent of the rest of the experience. This turned out to be some of the best and juiciest chicken I have ever tasted. The spice rub provided flavor without being overpowering, and the five of us eating this just could not get over how moist the chicken was! Even the blackened skin was delicious! We will definitely be using this method to cook chicken again--it was a perfect summer meal paired with veggie kabobs (seasoned with Green Tea Peppercorn seasoning--thanks Aunt Ann!) and grilled corn on the cob.

Missed previous Twelve in Ten Challenges? Read what it's all about here. Then, look at our first 6 months of challenges!
January--made a new type of bread
February--enjoyed Greek food at Ari's Restaurant
March--made a lamb dish
April--fell in love with Syrian restaurant Ranoush
May--baked my first pie from scratch
June--dined on local food at Local Harvest

Grilled Spice-Rubbed Whole Chicken
from Cooking Light

-1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
-1 1/4 tsp ground cumin
-1 tsp kosher salt
-1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
-1/2 tsp paprika
-1/2 tsp thyme (I omitted, didn't have on hand)
-1/2 tsp chili powder
-1 (4 lb) whole chicken
-cooking spray

1. Prepare grill for indirect grilling. Heat one side to medium-high and leave the other side unheated.
2. Combine the first 7 ingredients (brown sugar through chili powder) and set aside.
3. Remove giblets and neck from chicken; discard. Trim excess fat from chicken. Place chicken, breast side down, on a cutting board. Cut chicken in half lengthwise along backbone- Cut to, but not through, the other side. Turn chicken oven. Starting at the neck cavity, loosen skin from the breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat.
4. Rub spice mixture under the skin and press skin back to secure.
5. Place chicken, breast side down, over direct heat on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Cover and cook for 7 minutes. Flip chicken over and grill for 7 more minutes. Move chicken over to indirect heat. Cover and cook for 45 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into meaty party of thigh registers 165F. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and allow to rest before cutting into pieces.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Strawberry Amaretto Shortcakes

How do you properly assemble a strawberry shortcake? That was the question of the hour when a group of us were enjoying these for dessert. Debate ensued. Shortcake, whipped cream, strawberries, shortcake? Shortcake, strawberries, whipped cream, shortcake? Shortcake, whipped cream, strawberries, more whipped cream, shortcake? Regardless of what order you layer your whipped cream and strawberries, these are delicious!

The shortcake biscuits were dense but not heavy, with a subtle sweetness that paired nicely with the strawberries and cream. They were easy to slice in half too, making them ideal barriers to sandwich the toppings between. I wanted something more exciting than regular strawberries and whipped cream and remembered my friend Maggie mentioning that she'd made strawberry shortcakes with amaretto...I decided to follow her direction. Ryan found the amaretto flavoring to be a bit much, and would've preferred a plainer version. Everyone else loved the addition of the amaretto. You can easily omit if you'd prefer, but if you're an amaretto fan, I highly recommend this version!

Strawberry Amaretto Shortcakes
shortcake recipe adapted from Let's Dish

-1 cup whole wheat flour
-1 1/2 cup all purpose flour (can use all all-purpose flour if preferred)
-1/3 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
-1/3 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
-2 1/2 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp salt
-1 cup milk

-1 lb fresh strawberries
-1 tbsp sugar
-1 tbsp amaretto

Whipped Cream-
-1 cup heavy cream
-2 tbsp amaretto
-1 tbsp sugar

1. To make shortcakes, preheat oven to 425F. Combine flour, butter, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until it resembles coarse meal. Add milk and pulse until just moistened (4-5 pulses).
2. Place shortcake dough on a floured surface. With floured hands, shape dough into a 5 x 9 inch rectangle, approximately 1 inch high. Using a large knife, cut dough into 8 equal squares. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and lightly sprinkle with remaining 1 tbsp sugar. Bake until golden (15-20 minutes). Remove from oven and allow to cool (can make ahead of time and store in an air-tight container).
3. Hull and quarter strawberries and add to a medium-sized bowl. Toss with 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp amaretto. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes or up to one day.
4. Just before serving, beat heavy whipping cream until soft peaks form. Add sugar and amaretto and continue to beat until soft peaks return (do not overbeat).
5. Cut biscuits in half and layer as desired with strawberries and whipped cream.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Chickpea Pasta with Spinach, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Walnuts

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Last time my mom came to town, we made grilled pizza at our place and I blogged about it here. Later that weekend, Julia and my mom in turn made Ryan and me dinner. All four of us went crazy over the main dish, which they adapted from Mollie Katzen's Get Cooking. Before leaving that night, I made sure to copy down the recipe as they'd made it and was eager to make it once again. The second time was just as good as the first, though I substituted spinach for the arugula.

Mollie suggests a number of variations in her book for this recipe, based on what you like. Check out her book for the other suggestions, or just try this one which is absolutely fabulous! The dish is simple, oven-free, and has a unique flavor combination happening.

Chickpea Pasta with Spinach, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Walnuts
adapted from Mollie Katzen's Get Cooking
*serves 4-6

-1 can chickpeas
-1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
-1 tsp minced garlic
-3/4 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp dried thyme (I omitted, didn't have on hand)
-1/2 tsp dried oregano
-1/4 cup olive oil
-1/2 lb fresh mozzarella (cut into dice)
-1/2 lb small or medium-sized pasta shells (I used rotini this time because that's what I had, either work but I wouldn't use penne!)
-1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
-2-4 cups chopped fresh spinach
-1/2 bag sun dried tomatoes, chopped
-3/4 cup toasted walnuts

1. Rinse chickpeas. Combine vinegar, garlic, salt, thyme, oregano, and olive oil. Whisk to mix. Stir in chickpeas, mozzarella, and lots of pepper. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 30 min-1 hour.
2. Make pasta according to box. Drain and add to chickpea mixture.
3. Toss with parmesan, spinach, sun dried tomatoes, and walnuts. Serve immediately.

**FYI, leftovers are good, but they do dry out some. If you have leftovers, you may want to rejuvenate with a sprinkle of olive oil and balsamic!

Did you notice the pictures kind of looked like this pasta salad? Totally different recipe, another great dish!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Peanut Butter Nutella Brownies

I hate to let you down in the first sentence, but don't get your hopes up. Yes, the title says peanut butter Nutella brownies. Yes, these brownies contain both peanut butter and Nutella. But you can't taste it. Not the Nutella, and not really the peanut butter either.

WAIT, don't stop reading! Despite not living up to their name, these were still excellent brownies. They were fudgy and moist and bursting with chocolate flavor...just no peanut butter flavor...and no Nutella flavor. That didn't stop us from enjoying these brownies, they might be some of my favorite brownies ever. They just didn't meet the expectations I'd set after licking the bowl and recognizing both additional flavors in the batter.

So you might still want to try these, but halve the recipe and keep the Nutella/pb measurements the same?! Or perhaps keep the recipe, but double the Nutella and pb?! If you try it, let me know! In the meantime, does anyone have some Nutella baked good recipes where you can truly taste the Nutella? I'm hiding the rest of the jar from Ryan, who so desperately wants to dig in, because I'm determined to make something that truly showcases the Nutella!

Peanut Butter Nutella Brownies
from Noble Pig

-1 cup butter, melted
-2 cups granulated sugar
-2 tsp pure vanilla extract
-4 large eggs, room temperature
-1 cup all-purpose flour
-3/4 cup cocoa
-1/8 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp baking powder
-1/2 cup Nutella
-1/2 cup peanut butter

1. In a medium bowl combine all-purpose flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
2. Over low heat, melt butter and stir in sugar and vanilla extract until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well with a wooden spoon after each addition.
3. Whisk in the cocoa mixture until fully combined.
4. In a microwave safe bowl, heat Nutella and peanut butter in the microwave until runny, stirring after 20 seconds (took 40 seconds total). Mix this combination in with the rest of the brownie batter.
5. Pour batter into a greased glass 9 x 13 pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30 minutes at 350F. Once brownies have cooled, cut into squares.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Grilled Vegetables in a Foil Pack

To accompany our pork chops, Ryan grilled some vegetables in foil packs. I sent him a recipe, and he loosely based his version off of these. Really loosely, since we forgot to buy zucchini, were out of parsley, and then forgot to top the vegetables with feta cheese! Even so, these were a flavorful side dish. We sometimes use our grill basket, but to prevent any runaway peppers, Ryan wrapped the vegetables in a large piece of foil and tossed it on the grill. These are quick to whip up and can be varied depending on what you have on hand!

Grilled Vegetables in a Foil Pack
inspired by this recipe from Reader's Digest

-1/2 portabello mushroom, cut into slices
-1/2 red onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
-1-2 peppers (we used half of a red and all of an orange), cut into slices
-1/8 cup red wine vinegar
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1/4 tsp each oregano, cumin, chili powder, and dried mustard
-1/4 cup olive oil
-dash cayenne

1. Combine vinegar, garlic, spices, and oil in a small bowl. Whisk to combine.
2. In another bowl, toss chopped vegetables and brush lightly with dressing.
3. Wrap vegetables in a piece of foil, folding to ensure all vegetables are wrapped. Grill over medium high heat for 10-15 minutes.
4. Remove foil packet from grill, unwrap, and toss vegetables with remaining dressing, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grilled Pork Chops with Fresh Nectarine Salsa

Since we've been married, Ryan and I have consistently sat down together at the kitchen table and eaten dinner together. Sometimes we're rushed, sometimes we're distracted, and sometimes dinner isn't much more than a pb&j. Even so, we try to be good about eating that meal together, especially since both breakfast and lunch are eaten at our desks at work. Yet lately, we've fallen out of this valuable habit. Somewhere between Ryan's classes, my marathon training, long work days, and a generally busy calendar, we hadn't sat down together in over two weeks! Finally, we had a free night and found ourselves back at the kitchen table. And wow, what a meal to return to!

Ryan declared these the best pork chops he's ever eaten. A bold statement, to be sure, but I have to back him up on this one. Granted, it didn't hurt that he did ALL the preparing and cooking of this meal. Maybe it just tasted extra good to him thanks to his hard work, and extra good to me because I didn't have to lift a finger? :) Either way, we both loved these pork chops. They were tender and juicy and the nectarine salsa was just awesome! I'm sure the salsa would be good with grilled chicken as well, or even as an appetizer with chips. Ryan only made 2 pork chops (the original recipe called for 4), but a full batch of the salsa and we had no problems finishing it off!

It's the perfect time to grill, nectarines are in season, and this meal is simple enough for a weeknight but impressive enough for company. Give it a try!

Grilled Pork Chops with Fresh Nectarine Salsa
adapted from allrecipes.com

For the salsa-
-2 nectarines, pitted and diced
-1 ripe tomato, seeded and diced
-1/4 cup diced onion
-2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
-2 tbsp fresh lime juice
-salt, to taste

For the pork-
-ground cumin
-chili powder
-salt & ground black pepper
-olive oil
-pork chops

1. Light an outdoor grill for medium-high heat. Lightly oil grate.
2. Place the nectarines, tomato, onion, cilantro, and lime juice in a bowl. Toss to blend. Season with salt & refrigerate until serving (at least 30 minutes).
3. Brush pork chops with olive oil. Season generously with cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 30 min-1 hour. Grill pork chops until lightly browned, about 4 minutes a side.
4. Remove from grill, top with salsa, and serve.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chocolate Angel Food Cupcakes

Since I made the frozen cherry limeade pie, I've had quite a few egg whites hanging out in my fridge. I immediately thought I'd make some sort of angel food cake, since I'd seen this heavenly sounding lime angel food cake on Maria's blog. However, I wasn't sure if an angel food cake would come out if I made it in a bundt pan, and I was wary to experiment. Then I saw a recipe for chocolate angel food cupcakes and I knew I was in business.

I've always loved angel food cake. My best memories of it are from 8th grade basketball, when one particular tournament sold funfetti angel food cake at their concessions stand. I think my teammates and I were more excited about this than how well our team did in the tournament, sad as it is to say! Since then, I've had angel food cake a few times, often with strawberries and whipped cream. I had never tried, or even heard of, a chocolate version of this light, airy cake. The original recipe comes from Martha Stewart, so it's no surprise that these are quite delicious!

This recipe yielded about 18 cupcakes. I kept some plain, topped a few with whipped cream, as you see in the pictures, and then shared a bunch with some friends at work. For theirs, I sent a little jar with cream cheese frosting (4 oz. cream cheese beaten with about 1 cup of powdered sugar and a dash of vanilla extract) so that they could frost them if desired. I tried them all ways and liked them all ways. Ryan also thought they'd be good with a regular buttercream frosting. That being said, make them, choose your favorite topping (or not), and enjoy!

Chocolate Angel Food Cupcakes
from Telly's Tasty Tidbits

-3/4 cup sugar
-scant 1/2 cup cake flour
-1/4 cup cocoa powder
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1/4 tsp salt
-1/2 oz. semisweet chocolate, grated (about 1/4 cup)--I just chopped a Hershey's bar in my food processor and used 1/4 cup of it
-6 large egg whites
-1/2 tsp cream of tartar
-1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
-1/2 tsp pure almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven rack in center. Sift together in a small bowl 1/3 cup sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in grated chocolate and set aside.
2. With the whisk attachment and an electric mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. With machine running, add remaining sugar in a slow steady stream, beating until fully incorporated and stiff glossy peaks form. Add vanilla and almond extracts and beat to combine.
3. Gradually stir in flour mixture, gently folding into egg-white mixture until fully combined. Pour batter into lined muffin tins, filling about 2/3rds of the way. Tap pan on counter to remove air bubbles.
4. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until cakes spring back when depressed with a finger. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan before removing and cooking completely on a wire rack.
5. Serve with desired frosting and/or fresh fruit. Store at room temperature and eat within 3 days.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Avocado Feta Salsa

At my grandma's party last weekend, amidst a delicious spread of appetizers including fruit salsa, praline mix, hummus & veggies, and assorted cheese and crackers, this salsa was the first to go! Had we known it was going to be so popular, a second batch definitely would have been prepared.

I'm all about different types of salsa--there's cowboy caviar and the corn and black bean one--but this might be my favorite of the three! It's chunky and easy to pick up with tortilla chips and has fewer ingredients than the other two. Don't skimp on the fresh herbs, they add tons of flavor to the dip. This is a great dish for your next party or Mexican feast!

Avocado Feta Salsa

-2 plum tomatoes, chopped
-1 avocado, chopped
-1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
-1 tbsp oregano, finely chopped
-1 tbsp olive oil
-1 tbsp red or white wine vinegar
-1/2 cup feta, crumbled

1. Mix all ingredients into a small bowl. Cover and chill for 2 hours. Serve with tortilla chips.
(**if you want, you can mix all but the avocado several hours ahead of time and add the avocado just before serving to prevent browning)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Italian Restaurant Salad

My mom gave me this salad recipe a long time ago, but I always overlooked it in favor of some of my favorites (like this strawberry spinach salad). So when she said we were going to make it for my grandma's birthday party, I was excited that I'd finally get to try it. My mom gets all the credit for putting this salad together---I merely photographed (and made this salad as well).

The Italian Restaurant Salad is correctly named--it tastes like it's straight out of an authentic Italian restaurant. Typically I prefer a sweeter salad, but you can't go wrong with an Italian salad like this. It's great paired with pasta, pizza, or lasagna!

Italian Restaurant Salad

-3 tbsp olive oil
-2 tbsp red wine vinegar
-2 tsp lemon juice
-1 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp sugar
-1/2 tsp oregano
-1/4 tsp pepper
-2 cloves garlic, minced finely

-8-10 cups torn leaf & romaine lettuce
-3 tomatoes, cut into wedges
-1/2 cup grated carrots
-1/2 cup mild banana pepper rings
-1/4 cup black olives
-1/4 cup parmesan cheese

1. Whisk together all dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Cover until serving (don't need to refrigerate).
2. Toss lettuce with tomatoes, carrots, banana peppers, olives, and cheese. Add dressing and toss until well-coated. Serve immediately.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fruit Salsa

The last few times I've been home, my mom has had this fruit salsa on hand. We've decided it's the perfect summer appetizer, but I have to admit...I've enjoyed it for breakfast as well! I've seen other people make versions of this and serve with graham crackers, but the homemade cinnamon sugar tortilla chips are easy to throw together and so, SO good with the fruit salsa. This makes a pretty large batch and lasts for a few days in the fridge, so make it for yourself, even if you don't have a party to bring it to!

Fruit Salsa

-1 carton strawberries
-1 carton raspberries
-2 kiwi
-2 golden delicious apples
-3 tbsp fruit preserves (we've used apricot or peach)
-2 tbsp sugar
-1 tbsp brown sugar

For the homemade chips:
-1 package 10-inch tortillas
-butter cooking spray
-cinnamon & sugar

1. Chop the strawberries and raspberries into small pieces and throw in a medium-sized bowl. Peel and chop kiwi and apples into small pieces. Add to bowl.
2. Add fruit preserves and sugars to bowl. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
3. For the chips, spray each tortilla with butter cooking spray. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Spray again. Slice with a pizza cutter into triangle chip pieces. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp. Serve chips with chilled salsa.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Banana Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins

Surprise, surprise, I had some bananas that needed to be used up. This seems to be a theme around my house, huh? My first intent was to make some of this banana bread, but then I found a pint of blueberries that had somehow escaped Ryan's mouth. This is a rare occasion, and I felt the need to take advantage! I based these muffins on this recipe from Vintage Victuals, but ending up straying from it significantly when I realized I was lacking several ingredients she called for.

My version turned out wonderful! These are relatively healthy, without any oil or butter and instead moistened by lots of bananas. Though they have all whole wheat flour, they aren't particularly heavy and they're lightly sweet. We enjoyed these for breakfast and snacks, and I even stuck a few in the freezer to pull out on a day when I'm craving a baked good (because we so rarely are without baked goods...right...).

I was able to make a dozen regular sized muffins and another 16 mini-muffins. They were good in both forms, so feel free to make either size or a combination of both!

Banana Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins

-2 eggs
-4 ripe bananas, mashed
-1/2 cup plain yogurt
-1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
-1 cup old-fashioned oats
-1 tbsp wheat germ (optional)
-heaping 1/4 cup brown sugar
-2 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp cinnamon
-1 cup blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 400F. In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, bananas, and yogurt.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, oats, wheat germ, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
3. Add dry ingredients to the wet, lightly mixing until just combined and still slightly lumpy. Stir in blueberries.
4. Line muffin tins with paper liners or grease with cooking spray. Fill cups 2/3 of the way full. Bake mini muffins for 8 minutes and regular-sized muffins for 15-17 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. If not freezing, best eaten within a day or two!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Watermelon Salad with Feta, Balsamic, & Basil

I love fruit. I usually eat at least four to five pieces of fruit a day and I'm not picky--grapes, strawberries, apples, bananas, if it's a fruit, I'll take it! But watermelon. Ohhh watermelon. It's by far my favorite fruit and I anxiously await the days of summer when they're practically giving away giant watermelons in the grocery stores and farmers markets.

Recently, I bought my first watermelon of the season and I'm a little ashamed to tell you that it took less than three days for me to finish it off. I may or may not have eaten watermelon for dinner three nights in a row. Bad food blogger! I started to feel guilty about my lack of cooking last week and decided to get a little creative with my watermelon. Thus, this salad was born. I've heard of similar salads, something using mint or lime or various dressings. I used what I had in my fridge and was pleasantly surprised to find this was a killer combination. I don't need to dress up my watermelon-I'm perfectly content eating it as is. But this is a nice variation when you want fancify (yes, I made that word up) your melon.

Watermelon Salad with Feta, Balsamic, & Basil
*no ingredient amounts listed below--just do according to taste & the amount you're making

-Watermelon, chopped into one inch cubes
-Feta cheese, crumbled
-Fresh basil, chopped
-Drizzle of balsamic vinegar

1. Combine watermelon, feta, and basil. Lightly drizzle with a balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until serving (no more than an hour or two).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blueberry Cheese Danish Cake

It's rare that I make something and don't at least try a bite of it. It's why friends sometimes receive coffee cakes with a missing piece, or eleven muffins instead of twelve. But this cake was an exception. I tasted the batter, I licked the spoon from the filling, yet I never got a taste of the finished product. You see, this was a special request from Ryan's co-worker, whom I've never met, but whom Ryan promised I'd make a birthday treat for. Given the circumstances, I felt a little funny about cutting a wedge out of the cake before sending it to work with Ryan.

It was tough to resist, though, because this cake came out looking absolutely delicious! I'm always a little nervous to share something with people before a taste test, but my fear was unnecessary in this case. Ryan sent me an instant message at work (we work for the same company) and told me it was half eaten within the first fifteen minutes of announcing its presence. So while I can't give you a personal testimony to this cake, I don't think I need to!

Blueberry Cheese Danish Cake
adapted from Modern Comfort Food

For the cake-
-1 1/2 cups flour
-2 tsp baking powder
-1/4 tsp salt
-pinch of nutmeg
-1/2 cup butter, room temperature
-1 cup light brown sugar
-2 eggs
-2/3 cup sour cream
-2 tsp lemon juice
-1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping-
-8 oz. cream cheese (I used 1/3 less fat)
-1/2 cup sugar
-1 tsp flour
-1 egg
-2 tsp lemon zest
-2 cups blueberries
-1/2 cup slivered almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake or springform pan.
2. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until creamy. Slowly add brown sugar and beat until light and well-blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 2 minutes after each addition.
4. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the sour cream, half at a time (2 additions of each). Stir in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Spread batter into prepared pan.
5. Clean mixing bowl and add cream cheese, sugar, flour, egg, and lemon zest. Beat until smooth and creamy. Top batter with cheese mixture, spreading evenly and leaving a bit of batter exposed around the perimeter. Sprinkle blueberries over cheese and sprinkle almonds around the edge of the cake.
6. Bake for 40-50 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool before serving.

This post is linked to Eat at Home.