Sunday, October 17, 2010

Battered Chicken or Fish

My Venture into Goodbyes

In the last 14 months, I've posted over 100 recipes. Over 700 people subscribe to my blog and my recipes have been printed more than 40,000 times. I've had a great time doing my blog but it is an ever-increasing drain on my time. As many of you know, I do enjoy cooking but, most of all, I enjoy new recipe development. I've been really busy at work and I haven't had much time to work on new recipes (or even cook for myself!). After weeks of thinking about it, I've decided to quit doing my blog. Sniff!

Before I sign-off for the last time, I wanted to let you know my Top 5 Recipes over the last year. They are:

#1 – Southwestern Eggrolls (a clone of Chili's Southwestern Eggrolls)
#2 – Slow-Roasted Turkey Breast with Gravy
#3 – Catherine's Sweet Potato Mousse
#4 – Clone of Taco Bell's Baja Sauce
#5 – Beef and Potato Tacos

The following posts were the most read (probably because they all contained a funny story):
#1 -- Nacho Cheesy Chili
#2 -- Klingon Chicken
#3 -- Fluffernutter Bread Pudding
#4 -- Tacos al Pastor
#5 -- Dill-icious Potato Rolls (formerly known as Hong Kong Potato Roll Thingies)

Today, I am posting my final recipe. It's a clone of the batter used on Long John Silver's Chicken Planks or fish. I used the ingredient list on Long John Silver's website as a guide to make my own version. I actually like my version of the batter better than the real thing! This batter can be used for chicken, fish, shrimp, onion rings, or even Fried Frito Pie. What?! Fried Frito Pie?! Has he gone mad?! It's state fair season so I wanted to a posting related to foods at state fairs. One of the must-try foods at our state fair was the Krispy Kreme Hamburgers. It's a hamburger with Krispy Kreme doughnuts for the buns. I didn't try this concoction but it sounds really disgusting to me.

The 2010 winner of the Texas State Fair's Big Tex Choice Fried Food Award was a recipe for Fried Frito Pie. Gosh, it seems like they're frying everything nowadays: Fried Oreos, Fried Twinkies, Fried Butter, Fried Beer… Frying Frito pie was an interesting choice so I decided to try making some using my batter recipe. As you all probably know, Frito Chili Pie is traditionally made by ladling chili over Fritos and topping the mixture with cheese (and sometimes onions). Very yummy. How would this work if the chili pie were coated in a batter and fried? It was great! In fact, the photo at the top contains a few nuggets of Fried Frito Pie (as well as a couple of my Chicken Planks). I'll probably never make Fried Frito Pie again but it was fun to try it once.

This is a sad farewell for me. I've really enjoyed and appreciated all of your wonderful comments and support over the last year. I wish I didn't have to work for a living so I could spend more time on my blog! I encourage all of you to keep cooking and trying new foods and flavors. The next time you try a new, funky food, think of me. I'll miss you Blog Buddies! Best wishes – and happy cooking!

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Battered Chicken or Fish

A clone of Long John Silver's™ Chicken Planks or Fish
(Printable Version)

1 1/2 lbs chicken tenders or a mild, white fish (such as cod)
Salt to taste
Flour for dusting

For the Batter:
1 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 TBSP cornstarch
1 TBSP corn flour (not corn meal)
1 1/2 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp Accent (MSG), optional
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 c water plus more as needed
1 tsp vinegar

Oil for frying

Dry the chicken tenders (or fish) well. Salt the chicken tenders (or fish) and set aside. For the batter, whisk all of the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add 1 cup of water and vinegar and whisk smooth. Set aside.

Add about 3" of oil to a medium pot over medium-high heat. The pot needs to be deep enough to hold the oil plus leave plenty of room for the oil to expand when frying. Heat the oil to 350F. While the oil is heating, preheat the oven to 200F.

When the oil is approaching 350F, whisk the batter again. If it has thickened too much, add another tablespoon of water and whisk. Toss 2 to 3 pieces of chicken (or fish) in some flour (dredge the number of pieces that will fit in your pot without crowding it). Shake off all excess flour. Dip a piece of chicken (or fish) in the batter, allow most of the excess to drip off, then slowly add to the hot oil. Repeat with the remaining piece(s). Fry until deep brown. Transfer the chicken to a wire rack inserted into a sheet pan and place the sheet pan in the oven to keep warm until all of the chicken has been fried. Allow the oil to return to 350F before adding more pieces.

Texas Fried Frito Pie

1 recipe of the batter (see above)
1 can of prepared chili (no beans)
1-2 TBSP finely chopped onions, optional
4 oz cheddar cheese
Frito Scoops
Combine the chili, onions (if using), and cheddar cheese in a medium bowl. Use a spoon to add a small amount of the chili mixture to a Frito Scoop. Place on a small cookie sheet. Repeat with as many scoops as you want to fry. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Freezing the scoops will make it easier to dip them in the batter.

While the scoops are chilling, make the batter and start heating the oil. When the oil is nearly at 350F, pull the cookie sheet out the oven and drop a chili-filled scoop into the batter. Use a form to coat the scoop with the batter. Using the same fork, pull out the scoop – allowing the excess batter to drip off. Add to the hot oil and repeat with additional scoops. Don't overcrowd the pot. Fry until deep brown. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in an oven set at 200F.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Creamed Beef

My Venture into Cafeteria Cuisine

I've been feeling nostalgic so I wanted to post a recipe inspired by foods served in school cafeterias. When I was researching ideas on what to post, I looked at the lunch menus at dozens of schools across the U.S. I was SHOCKED with what I saw. Today, many schools serve mostly prepared processed food such as corn dogs, chicken nuggets, and pre-made burritos. It's sad that many American kids get nothing but the equivalent of heavily processed fast food for both breakfast and lunch. In larger school districts, in fact, I'm not sure that they actually make ANYTHING from scratch. It seems like the only thing they do is heat up commercially made food items that are little more than TV dinners. Smaller school districts seemed to fare better. They often had, what appeared to be, a mixture of home-style and commercially made foods. One day very soon, I fear the good old days of lunchroom staples like homemade cinnamon rolls, freshly made meatloaf, Salisbury steaks, mashed potatoes, and fresh-from-the-oven baked cookies will be relics of the past. Sad. Wow. I'm beginning to sound like my grandmother!

Today's recipe is known by many names:
1) Sh*t on a Shingle
2) S.O.S.
3) Creamed Beef on Toast
4) Chipped Beef on Toast
5) Creamed Chipped Beef

It's an oldie but a goodie. Popularized by the U.S. military decades ago, this was also a popular item in school cafeterias when I was growing up. The dish is traditionally made with chipped beef but variations made with ground beef are also very popular today. The Navy also has their own version which uses onions, tomatoes, and nutmeg. Traditionally, the gravy is served on toast (the shingle) but may be served over mashed potatoes, biscuits, or waffles (a personal favorite). For some, waffles may sound like a weird accompaniment. I visited a restaurant many years ago that served creamed beef on waffles and, before I tried it, I thought to myself, "Nooooo. This is just wrong." So of course I had to try it. But after one bite, I was hooked! It's actually a great combination. Freaky but tasty.

Creamed Beef is hard to reinvent. It's comfort food at its finest. I started out by identifying things I DIDN'T like in Creamed Beef recipes that I had tried in the past. Chipped beef is very salty (and I'm a saltaholic!) so I don't like to use it for Creamed Beef. Some recipes seem to be VERY stingy with the meat. Sometimes, I feel like a crime scene investigator searching for evidence of meat in the gravy. Often times, the gravy was not cooked long enough for the flavors to meld and for the meat to soften. In addition, the gravy was frequently pasty and screaming for flavor. It would also be nice for the dish to have a little color. Without any color, it looks a little sad and uninteresting. Could I make a version that was worthy of being called Sh*t on a Shingle? The pressure was on.

After a lot of testing, I decided I liked adding the scallions for both flavor and color. Red chili flakes woke up the flavor and I like the little specs of red permeating the gravy. The gravy is simmered longer than many recipes – but not so long that the meat turns into baby food. In the end, the dish was tasty and comforting like good, ol' fashioned creamed beef is supposed to be.

When I was growing up, I loved my school's peanut butter bars. They were sweet and crunchy (from maybe Wheaties or Corn Flakes stirred in). That brings back great memories! What was your favorite lunchroom food when you were growing up? Leave a comment at the end of this page and let us know. I hope you enjoy today's recipe – and happy reminiscing!

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Creamed Beef (Sh*t on a Shingle)
(Printable Version)

4 TBSP butter
1 bunch scallions (white, light green, and most of the dark green parts), finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c flour
3 1/2 c milk (2% works great)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste), optional
1 1b lean ground beef
3/4 c heavy cream
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (or to taste), optional
Salt and pepper to taste

In a sauce pan, melt the butter. Add the scallions and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the flour and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the milk, red pepper flakes, some salt and pepper then whisk to smooth. Bring to a light simmer (but do not boil).

While you are waiting for the sauce to begin simmering, heat a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the ground beef and some salt and pepper. Brown the ground beef – making sure to break it into small pieces as it cooks. You will not be draining the ground beef after it's browned so be sure to buy leaner cut.

When the meat has browned, pour the sauce into the pot with the ground beef and stir to combine. If the sauce had not started to simmer by the time the hamburger was brown, no problem. Throw it into the ground beef anyway. Bring the gravy to a simmer then lightly simmer for 20 minutes (uncovered) – turning down the heat as needed to keep it from boiling. Add the cream and the Worcestershire sauce (if using) then stir to combine. Return the mixture to a light simmer and heat 5 minutes longer. Too thick? Add a little more milk. Too thin? Let it simmer a few minutes longer. The gravy will thicken as it cools. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve on mashed potatoes, toast, biscuits, or waffles.

Recipe Notes:
1) If you want to lighten this recipe up, use lean ground beef or turkey. Skip the cream and just use a total of 4 1/4 cups of 2% milk. If I worked in a school cafeteria, this is how I would make it for the kids.
2) If you don't like Worcestershire sauce, feel free to leave it out. I like it so I always add extra.
3) If you are partial to chipped beef, feel free to use it instead of ground beef. However, I would not add any extra salt unless it is needed at the end.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fluffernutter Bread Pudding

My Venture into Bread Pudding

Have you ever heard of a fluffernutter sandwich? If you're from the northeastern part of the U.S., you probably have. It's a sandwich made with peanut butter and marshmallow crème. Very yummy. If you make it like a grilled cheese sandwich, it's exceptionally yummy. Those wonderful fluffernutter sandwiches were the inspiration for this bread pudding recipe.

When I was developing this recipe, I made it 4 billion times – tweaking things here and there until I got it the way I liked it. I can now say that I'm officially SICK of bread pudding and I never want to taste or smell peanut butter again. This leads me to a story.

Last week, I was driving through the campus where I work. I was singing along to Katy Perry's "California Gurls" when an approaching car unexpectedly turned in front of me going, like, .000001 mph. It came as no surprise that a blue-haired old lady was driving the car. I don't want to speculate about how old she was but I'm confident she learned to drive chariots when Ramses II was Pharaoh. I slammed on my brakes and it took every ounce of self-restraint I had to not give her a friendly, one-finger wave. However, it's hard to flip off mummified old ladies when you're been singing offkey to perky music. Upon closer observation, I realized she was attempting to turn onto a sidewalk instead of the entrance of a nearby parking lot. A long time ago, the University put up some short cement pillars at the entrance of the sidewalk so that confused drivers wouldn't turn onto it thinking it was the entrance of an interstate freeway or something. I fully expected the driver, after realizing the cement pillars were blocking her path down the sidewalk, to back up and get the hell out of my way. No. She sat there…HONKING HER HORN. Yes. Honking her horn. So I thought, "Well, maybe she's having a heart attack or something…". So, I got out of my car and asked if anything was wrong. She rolled down her window and exclaimed in an irritated voice, "Well, I keep honkin' my horn but nobody's openin' the gate!" I just stared back and blinked. I then explained that the cement barricade was not a gate and the "road" she was trying to turn onto was actually a sidewalk. "A SIDEWALK?!", she bellowed back. I then pointed out where she should turn to get into the parking lot. Meanwhile, cars were backing up in both directions because she was blocking both lanes in her huge grandma-mobile that was only slightly smaller than the Nile riverboats I'm sure she rode in as a child. She then started backing up and I walked back to my car. I got in my car and she was still backing up. I put my car in gear and adjusted the air conditioning and she was still backing up. After what seemed like 14 days, her back tires finally hit the opposite curb, she put her boat in drive, and she went on her merry way.

What does this have to do with Fluffernutter Bread Pudding? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I just could not bring myself to write about bread pudding or peanut butter. Did I mention that I was sick of bread pudding and peanut butter? So go put on some Lawrence Welk and make some of this fantastic bread pudding! Enjoy – and happy fluffernuttering!

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Fluffernutter Bread Pudding
(Printable Version)

15 - 16 oz french bread (or your favorite bread), crust removed, and cut into 1" cubes
6 eggs
1/2 c sugar
4 c half-and-half
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c butter, melted
1 1/2 c peanut butter
7 oz jar Marshmallow Fluff

Preheat the oven to 300F. Add the cubed bread to a sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes. Do not allow the bread to brown. This dries out the bread so the custard readily absorbs into the bread. After you pull the cubed bread out of the oven, let them cool for about 5 minutes.

While the bread is drying out, combine the eggs and sugar and whisk aggressively for about a minute. Add the half-and-half, salt, and vanilla and whisk to combine. Set aside.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the butter, peanut butter, and Marshmallow Fluff. Microwave the mixture for about 60 seconds then whisk until thoroughly combined. Heat the mixture for another 45 seconds or until the mixture is thin and free of any lumps after being whisked. Slowly whisk the hot mixture into with the bowl with the half-and-half. Whisk until smooth. The peanut butter will leach out a little bit but don't worry about it.

Transfer the dried bread cubes into the custard mixture and stir to combine. Increase the oven temperature to 325F. Gently stir the bread every minute or so for 5 minutes to ensure the custard is being absorbed evenly. Stir the mixture one final time then pour the bread mixture into a 4-quart casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Allow the mixture to rest for 5 additional minutes without stirring. After 5 minutes, use the back of a spoon to push down the bread to give it one more dunk before baking. Bake for about 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out relatively clean. Let the pudding rest for at least 15 minutes (preferably 30 minutes) before serving. It should be served warm but not hot. If desired, drizzle with a some Peanut Butter Glaze (recipe follows).

Peanut Butter Glaze
2 TBSP peanut butter
1/4 c milk (plus additional as needed)
1 1/3 c powdered sugar

Place the peanut butter and milk in a medium bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds. Whisk until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and whisk thoroughly to combine. If the glaze is too thick, add more milk. If it is too thin, add more powdered sugar.

1) To make a Fluffernutter Nanner Bread Pudding, add some chopped bananas to the mixture before baking.
2) Some bread puddings are on the drier side – especially the part that's directly exposed to the heat in the oven. Some are on the moist side. This recipe makes a moist, old-style bread pudding.
3) During recipe development, I tried making this with as much as 2 cups of peanut butter. That was just too peanut-buttery for my taste – especially if you put the glaze on top. I also tried it with as little as one cup of peanut butter. With only 1 cup of peanut butter, you could barely tell any was in there. If you're a peanut-butter-aholic, try it with 2 cups of peanut butter sometime. That's not my thing but you might like it.
4) I have not tested this recipe with natural peanut butter.
5) If you like your desserts on the sweeter side, feel free to double the glaze recipe.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Snickerberry Pie

My Venture into Berries and Chocolate

Hello Blog Buddies! It's hot outside and nobody wants to heat up their kitchen by baking something. So, I decided to do a summertime dessert for today's posting.

I originally set out to make a Snickers Bar Salad. You know, the "salad" that contained chopped apples and Snickers? I think there are a lot of fruits that pair well with chocolate but an apple is not one of the first fruits that comes to my mind. So, I thought I would do my take on the "salad" and use strawberries and cream cheese. After much thought, I just could not bring myself to call this a SALAD. I'm a purist and that good, 'ol Snickers Bar Salad is nothing but a dessert to me. So, I thought I would dump it into a prepared pie crust and call it a pie instead.

When I was testing this recipe, I wondered:
1) Would the pie set up properly?
2) With all of the sugar in the filling, would the strawberries exude a lot of liquid – making the pie very weepy?
3) How much chunky stuff (the strawberries and Snickers) could the pie support? Too much and it would be too hard to cut and too little and guests would think I was being stingy with good stuff.
4) How large should I chop the chunky stuff. Small chunks are easier to eat but larger ones would have the texture contrast that I was looking for.
5) How chocolaty should the pie be?

To help resolve some of these questions, I made the pie and enlisted the help of co-workers, who are quite helpful in giving me input on recipes that I'm testing. Many of them felt I cut the Snickers too big so I cut them much smaller in the final recipe. One felt it would be tasty with strawberries and pineapple – and I very much agree. However, I would again be worried by how much juice the pineapple would give off since it's a particular juicy fruit. When I took it to work, I hadn't even named the pie. My good friend Sue offered "Snickerberry Pie" as a suggestion for the name and I loved it!

I was careful to use only the best strawberries in this recipe. Later, when I wanted to slice a strawberry for the garnish in the picture, I realized that I only had mammoth strawberries left. As you can in the picture, that stupid mammoth strawberry fills up half the photo! Oh, well. You get the idea. I'm not a sweets eater and I'm definitely not a chocolate lover but I think this pie tastes pretty darn good. On the plus side, it's a CINCH to make. When strawberries are in-season, it makes the pie even better. So, buy some fresh berries then chop down a Snickers tree and make this yummy dessert. Enjoy – and happy snickering!

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Snickerberry Pie
(Printable Version)

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk, chilled
1/3 c lemon juice, chilled
1 8-oz tub whipped topping
3 full-size (or 12 fun-size) Snickers candy bars, cut into small cubes
1 1/2 c diced strawberries, chilled
1 prepared graham cracker or Oreo crust (preferably a larger one)
Hot Fudge Ice Cream Topping (Optional)
Sliced strawberries for garnish (Optional)
Additional Snickers for garnish (Optional)

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sweetened condensed milk and beat until well combined, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the lemon juice and mix. Add the whipped topping and mix until just combined. Using a large spoon, stir in the Snickers and strawberries until incorporated. Spoon into a prepared crust and refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving. When ready to serve, cut into slices and, if desired, serve with hot fudge ice cream topping and additional sliced strawberries and chopped Snickers.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Homemade Breakfast Sausage

My Venture into Sausage

Pork and I go way back. You know my thunder thighs? They're mostly ham. My blossoming belly? That's primarily bacon. And my roomy patootie? Now that's from all kinds of sausage from all four corners of this planet. Kielbasa, Spanish chorizo, andouille, mortadella, landjager, hot links, bratwurst, bangers, genoa salami, pepperoni, bologna, American hot dogs, snags and lap cheong – I love 'em all! However, good 'ol American breakfast sausage is still one of my favorites.

We all have preferences when it comes to sausage. I don't like sausage that's overly spiced with sage nor overly sweetened with maple. The spices I add to my sausage augment the flavor of the pork but do not overpower it. There is an Amish community about 45 minutes away from where I live called Yoder and they sell their own meats – including some great sausages of different varieties. They have mastered the art of sausage making and their sausage will beat mine any day.

Why make your own sausage? First, it's fast. It takes five minutes to mix up a batch of this sausage. Second, you can make it a LOT cheaper than you can buy it in the store. Third, you can control the fat, sodium, sugar, and nitrate content as well as the kinds of spices and herbs you add so as to better suit your health goals and flavor palate.

Be sure to read the notes at the end of the recipe below. I give several pointers on making your own bulk sausage – even an ultra-lean alternative preparation. You can use this sausage to make patties, sausage gravy, scrapple, facial masks, or anything else you might use bulk sausage in.

I wonder how the pictures turned out. I took two pictures and the batteries in my camera died so I'm recharging them right now as I'm writing this. I took the time to make some homemade biscuits to go with the sausage and I don't want to have to go to all of the effort of setting up a second series of shots when the camera batteries are recharged. If the above picture looks crappy, you'll know why! Sometime, I'll have to post my recipes for my Old Weigh Station Biscuits and Sausage Gravy. Both are very yummy. I'm still really busy at work so that will have to wait for another time.

You want to know a secret? Guess what kind of sausage is my favorite? Vegetarian sausage. YES...vegetarian sausage! I'm big enough to have my own postal code and you'd never believe I liked vegetarian sausage. Love it!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy today's post. You have to give it a try some time since it is so quick and easy-to-make. Enjoy – and happy sausage making!

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Homemade Breakfast Sausage

(Printable Version)

1 tsp table salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1/4 tsp ground marjoram
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp red pepper (optional)
2 tsp water
1 lb ground pork or ground turkey

In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the ground pork or turkey. Whisk until the spices are moistened. Add the ground pork or turkey and stir until thoroughly combined (I use my hands). If you have time, cover the sausage and refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow the flavors to meld. If you don't, the sausage will still taste great.

To cook, form the sausage into patties (or crumble if making sausage gravy). Cook over medium heat until the sausage has nicely browned on both sides.

1) I love this with ground turkey! I prefer ground turkey with a mixture of white and dark meat so the cooked sausage isn't so dry.
2) Buying ground pork from the grocery store is a big time-saver. However, it can sometimes be hit or miss. Commercially ground pork averages about 70% lean meat. Ground pork can come from various parts of the pig so you really never know what you're getting. If you have a grinder or food processor (or a nice butcher!), grind your own pork so you know what cuts are going into the sausage.
3) For an ULTRA low-fat version: Buy some pork tenderloin on sale and trim off all of the fat. I cut it into 1" cubes (1 lb of pork after trimming) and freeze it in single layer on a sheet pan for about 20 minutes or so. The outside should be firm but the inside should be pliable. While the pork is freezing, combine the other ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Sometimes, I substitute vegetable oil for the water (shhhhh!) when using this method so it is not as dry. Transfer the pork to a food processor and dump the herb mixture on top. Whiz the pork (scraping down the bowl as necessary) until it is as finely/coarsely ground as you like. Pork tenderloin is similar to a boneless, skinless chicken breast in fat content so this preparation is great for someone who wants pork sausage on a low-fat diet. As with many other ground, low-fat proteins, this ultra low-fat version can get a little dry and spongy when cooked. The flavor is great if you don't mind a drier sausage with a slightly spongy texture. It's not my favorite way to make it but I offer this as a very healthful alternative.
4) I, personally, like the clean taste of white sugar in sausage. Feel free to substitute brown sugar or maple syrup if that's your thing.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Spicy Black Bean Burgers

My Venture into Black Bean Burgers

I am still crazy busy at work so I'm having difficulty finding the time to cook for myself (let alone my blog). Not to mention, it's July and blazing HOT in Kansas so who wants to heat up their house with the stove?

When I was a vegetarian, I loved to make black bean burgers all of the time. They're healthy, fast and easy-to-make, and, best of all, can be frozen for use at a later date. Even though I'm no longer a vegetarian, I still cook these burgers from time-to-time because they are so darn good! I get a lot of requests for vegetarian dishes so I thought I would share this recipe. One day soon, I'll also share my veggie burger recipe. It's so good!

You can make these babies as spicy as you like. With just the jalapeno, they are not particularly spicy. Add the red pepper flakes and they definitely have a kick. Top them pepper jack cheese and spicy ranch dressing and WWOOOOOO WEEEEE they're spicy. The nice thing is that you can make them as spicy as you want – from mild to burn-a-hole-in-your-pants spicy.

You and your family are going to love these. I've never tried grilling them so I'm not sure how they would turn out. If you try grilling them, let me know. They hold together pretty well so they should maintain their shape even when grilled (but be careful when turning them so they do not break apart and fall through the grates). So blog buddies – relax a while, grab a lemonade, and make some of these tasty burgers. Enjoy – and happy summer cooking!

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Spicy Black Bean Burgers
(Printable Version)

2 15-oz cans black beans, rinsed and well drained
1 TBSP olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 c chopped red bell pepper
1 jalapeno (ribs and seeds removed), finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 c seasoned bread crumbs
2 TBSP salsa
1 egg
1/4 c fresh cilantro (no need to chop)
1/2 tsp table salt or to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red chili flakes (optional)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano, rubbed between your fingers
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 c whole kernel corn
Hamburger buns and your favorite condiments

Rinse and drain the black beans well. Reserve 3 to 4 tablespoons of the whole black beans. Add the remaining beans to a food processor.

Heat a skillet over medium heat with the olive oil. Add the onion and cook 3 to 4 minutes or until softened. Add the red bell pepper, jalapeno and garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Set aside and allow the mixture to cool slightly.

While the onion mixture is cooling, add the remaining ingredients to the food processor except for the reserved whole beans and whole kernel corn. Pulse several times – scraping down the bowl as needed. The bean mixture in the food processor should be thick and fairly smooth. Add the onion mixture to the food processor and pulse only 3 to 4 times – scraping down the bowl after each pulse. You still want to see some chunks of red pepper and jalapeno so do not puree the mixture too much.

Transfer to the bean mixture to a bowl and mix in the reserved whole black beans and corn. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours to allow the bread crumbs to absorb any excess liquid.

If freezing the burgers, cut some parchment or wax paper into squares a little larger than the patties you will form. You will use the parchment to separate the patties so they do not stick together when frozen. Lay the parchment squares in a sheet pan in an even layer. Form a patty with some of the bean mixture. You can make the burgers as thick or thin as you would like. I prefer mine about 1/2" thick. Place the burger on one of the parchment squares and continue with the remaining bean mixture. Keep everything in a single layer. Freeze the burgers for a couple of hours then stack them (keeping a piece of parchment between each burger) in a resealable bag.

Cooking Burgers That Are Not Frozen: To cook the burgers, heat a skillet (uncovered) over medium heat with some olive oil (a tablespoon or so). Cook the patties until they are nicely browned – about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Serve on a bun with your favorite condiments. I like to serve them topped pepper jack cheese, spicy ranch dressing, lettuce, tomato, and a little onion – but you can add whatever you want.

Cooking Burgers That Are Frozen: You do not need to defrost the burgers before cooking them. Heat a skillet (somewhere between medium-low and medium heat) with the olive oil. Add the burgers and cover them with a lid while cooking. Because they are frozen, you need to cook them at a slightly lower temperature, covered, for a little bit longer than if they were thawed.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Corn Casserole

My Venture into Corn Casserole

Blog Buddies – As you have seen, I have not been posting as often as I would like. I am absolutely swamped at work right now so I've had to put cooking and new recipe development on the back burner (pun intended!) for now. With the long hours at work, cooking is definitely not something I look forward to when I get home. I do NOT know how working moms do this every day!!! For at least the next month, my postings will be sporadic. My apologies in advance!

Today's recipe is quick and easy to make and is especially good when corn is in season. Some American and Mexican corn casseroles/puddings are often VERY sweet. When I eat them, I feel like I'm eating dessert for dinner. With this recipe, I set out to make a flavorful and savory casserole with just a bit of sweetness.

Corn-based casseroles and puddings are not unique to North America. In Paraguay, they have a very popular side dish called "Chipa Guazu." I've eaten it here in the U.S. but I'm sure it's not as good as a Paraguayan grandmother could make. Chipa guazu is normally made with a fresh cheese called "Queso Paraguay", which is impossible to find where I live. From what I understand, it's similar to Monterrey Jack but, not having tried it myself, I cannot corroborate that. I've worked with a few Paraguayans throughout the years and they are the ones who introduced me to chipa guazu. I played around with one of their recipes to come up with the one I am posting today. I adapted their recipe to include easier-to-find ingredients that better suit my taste preferences.

I think it tastes pretty darn good. I'm not willing to officially call it chipa guazu since I've never been to Paraguay to taste the real thing but I think most Paraguayans would consider my attempt to be at least edible (even if it's not authentic). Give it a try with some homegrown sweet corn! Very yummy! Enjoy – and happy shucking!

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Corn Casserole
(Printable Version)

1/2 c butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 eggs, beaten
3/4 c heavy cream
1 14-3/4 oz can sweet-style creamed corn
1 12-oz package frozen sweet corn niblets (thawed in the fridge) or 2 c fresh corn
8 oz monterrey jack cheese, finely shredded
1 c flour
1 1/2 tsp table salt
2 TBSP sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350F. Heat a skillet over medium heat with the butter. When melted (don't allow the skillet to get too hot), add the onions and gently sweat the onions until they are very soft but not browned (about 8 – 10 minutes). Let cool about 5 minutes.

While the onions are softening, beat the eggs and cream together in a medium bowl. Add the creamed corn, thawed corn, and cheese.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder.

When the onions have cooled about 5 minutes, add them to the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour the batter into a 9x13" glass dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the casserole is brown around the edges and the center has set.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tex-Mex Meat and Cheese Croquettes

My Venture into Croquettes

Ah, croquettes. Another culinary gift from the French to the rest of the world. Commonly, croquettes are filled with mashed potatoes or minced meat then dipped in eggs and bread crumbs and deep-fried to golden perfection. They're crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. You know, kind of like those big beetles they eat in parts of Asia. {{shuddering}} I've eaten variations of croquettes in several countries but my favorite are the potato croquettes sold in the food courts at department stores in Japan and Korea. I've always wondered why croquettes are not popular in the U.S. I mean Americans seem to live on fried foods. After all, can you name any fair foods that aren't fried – as sickening as that may be? How many fast food restaurants can you name that do not have at least one item that's deep-fried? This is a country that deep fries Twinkies, Oreos, and pickles. This is a country that takes deep frying to a whole new level when it deep fries butter. Yes…butter. Yes, here in America, we deep-fry our fat. {{shuddering again}}

Compared to deep-fried butter, this recipe is downright healthy. Compared to a salad, not so much. My inspiration for this recipe actually comes from Brazilian-style croquettes, which are normally made with beef. However, I wanted to use ingredients that Americans might enjoy. Could I do it? I'll let you decide.

First, I had to decide on a filling. My first idea was to use a filling similar to what's used in potstickers then I decided against it because I thought it lacked universal appeal. I then narrowed my ideas down to two options: 1) A filling made with beef, taco seasoning, and cheese, or 2) a filling made with Italian sausage, Italian seasonings, a little pizza sauce, and mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. They both sounded good (at least, to me). These, of course, would be dipped in egg and bread crumbs and deep-fried. Ultimately, I flipped a coin and went with Option 1. I still think the Italian-inspired Option 2 sounds good and maybe I'll try making it for myself sometime.

I know this is a strange recipe but I like weird foods! I think they're tasty. They're not something I would make routinely but they're nasty nevertheless. If you'd like me to experiment with the Italian option, leave a comment and let me know. If I get enough requests, maybe I'll post that option sometime. In the meantime, fix these and let me know what you think. Enjoy – and happy croquetting!

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Tex-Mex Meat and Cheese Croquettes
(Printable Version)

1/2 c milk
3 1/2 TBSP flour
1 packet taco seasoning (1 oz to 1.25 oz)
1 TBSP oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb hamburger
Salt and pepper to taste (go easy on the salt if your taco seasoning contains salt)
4 scallions, finely chopped
Additional salt and pepper to taste
1 c freshly grated cheese (pepper jack, monterrey jack, cheddar, etc)
5 egg whites, beaten
2 c panko bread crumbs
Oil for frying

Whisk the milk, flour, and taco seasoning together in a small bowl. Set aside. Heat a skillet over medium heat with the oil. When hot, add the onion and cook 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the hamburger and a little salt and pepper. Brown and drain very well. Add the meat to a food processor and whiz for a few seconds. Scrape down the bowl and repeat until the meat is finely ground.

Return the meat to the skillet and turn the heat to medium. Add the scallions. Stir the flour mixture one more time and add it to the meat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring every minute or so. The mixture should be quite thick. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool then place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Add the cheese to the meat mixture and stir to combine. Use a cookie scoop to get enough meat to form a small meatball. Bigger is NOT better here. If you get the meatballs too big, the interior will not get hot before the croquette browns. Roll the meatballs between your palms as you would went making meatballs to ensure the meatballs are round and the outside is smooth. Place the meatballs on wax paper.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy. Add the panko bread crumbs to a shallow dish or pie plate. Add a meatball to the egg whites and coat. Transfer to the bread crumbs and coat. Add a second layer of egg whites and bread crumbs – knocking off any excess. Set the croquette on a wax-paper lined sheet pan and repeat this process until you have used up all of the meat. Place the meatballs in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to allow the coating to set. This step is important so don't skip it.

Preheat about 3" of oil in a pot – making sure not to add oil more than halfway up the pot. Heat the oil to 340F (the croquettes fry too quickly at higher temperatures). Fry a few croquettes at a time until they are golden brown – making sure not to overcrowd the oil. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and serve piping hot with your favorite dipping sauce.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pimento Cheese Spread

My Venture into Spreadable Cheese

The South has given us many culinary delicacies including fried chicken, cornbread, fried green tomatoes, and biscuits. However, one of my personal favorites is pimento cheese spread. Oooh, yessss. It's traditionally made with sharp cheddar cheese, pimentos, and mayonnaise and often eaten on sandwich bread. Could I improve upon this classic southern cheese spread? Probably not but I thought I'd give it the old college try.

When I was growing up, pimento cheese was not a staple in my house. It was only when I went to college that I began eating it in earnest. A few years ago, I ordered some from a mail-order company called Zingerman's and LOVED it. I especially loved the crock it came in, which you can see in the picture above. I love their cheese spread because it's a bit spicy. You'll notice that I add cayenne or chili peppers to a lot of my recipes because I definitely appreciate spiciness in my food. My recipe for pimento cheese spread is no exception. It's assertively flavored with onion powder, garlic powder, and yes, cayenne. Don't worry though! You can decrease those spices, if desired.

There is so much you can do with pimento cheese spread. My mother likes it in grilled cheese sandwiches and on top of baked potatoes. I like in on hamburgers, crackers, or celery. Your options are endless. I do like it with sharp cheddar cheese but I often change it up a bit and make it with one of my favorite cheeses, manchego, which is a sheep's milk cheese from Spain. For today's post, I made one batch with sharp cheddar and the other with manchego. The lighter of the two spreads is made with manchego. You can click on the above picture to get a better view.

Many moons ago, I let my friend Denise try some of my pimento cheese spread – which I make far spicier for myself than the recipe you will see below. She also likes spicy food but I think I blew her socks off. Trust me – the recipe below is MUCH tamer than I make it for myself.

This is a great summer treat. Take some to work to snack on or take it to the park with your kids. I hope you like it. Enjoy – and happy spreading!

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Pimento Cheese Spread
(Printable Version)

3 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt or to taste
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
3/4 c mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)
8 oz brick of cheese (cheddar, colby, and manchego all work well), ground or finely shredded
2 oz jar pimentos, drained

Using the paddle attachment of your mixture, beat together the cream cheese, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, cayenne (if using), and mayonnaise. The texture of the spread is creamiest when you grind the cheese and pimentos using the grinding attachment of your mixer. If you have a grinding attachment, grind the cheese and pimentos into the bowl containing the cream cheese mixture. If you do not have a grinding attachment, grate the cheese using a fine grater and finely chop the pimentos then add them to the bowl containing the cream cheese mixture.

Beat the cheese and other ingredients together on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy – about 1 minute. Scrape the bowl and beat another minute or so.

Transfer the cheese spread to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.

1) With this amount of onion and garlic powder, this recipe is more assertively flavored that other pimento cheese spreads. If you are sensitive to the flavor of onions and garlic, use less in this recipe.
2) My personal favorite is to use manchego cheese (a Spanish sheep's milk cheese). Very yummy!
3) My mother likes this spread in grilled cheese sandwiches and on top of baked potatoes.
4) Whatever you do, do NOT use pre-shredded cheese. Pre-shredded cheese is coated to prevent the cheese from sticking together – which is not what you want in a cheese spread. Be sure to use fresh cheese in this particular recipe.
5) This tastes great when made with 2% sharp cheddar, light cream cheese, and reduced-fat mayo. It's so flavorful, you'll never miss all of the fat.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Corn Fritters with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce

My Venture into Fritters and Dipping Sauce

Sorry for my short absence blog buddies! I've been very busy as of late and I've not had as much time as normal to work on my blog. I've even had to resort to (gasp!) frozen pizza for dinner a couple of times during the last few weeks. The SHAME!!!

When I was growing up, my mother would fix corn fritters from time to time. Corn fritter recipes, like barbecue recipes, are a regional thing in the U.S. In parts of the U.S., corn fritters are fried and topped with syrup. Very tasty. Some recipes have cornmeal in them and remind me somewhat of hushpuppies. Very tasty. However, this recipe is nothing like either of those. My corn fritters are, regrettably, deep fried. I know, I know!!! It's fairly easy to get a really crisp exterior when deep frying batter-coated fish, chicken, steak, etc. because the interior is not all batter. However, when you deep fry a doughnut, Indian taco, corn fritters, etc, it's really hard to get the same kind of crispy exterior.

My mom's corn fritters were really good but I wanted a crispier exterior. That's a tall challenge! More liquid in the batter would make it crispier (strangely enough) but too much allows excess oil to absorb too easily into the fritter. Milk, a common liquid in corn fritters, tastes great but softens breads/doughs. After lots of trial and error, I got a combination of ingredients that fairly work well. This type of corn fritter will never be as crispy as eating an onion ring but these fritters have an acceptable level of crispiness on the outside without sacrificing the texture and flavor of the inside. It's all about balance.

I've never been a big Honey-Mustard fan. It's OK but I can live without it. Someone recommended that I try a Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce on Recipezaar and, I have to admit, IT WAS GOOD!!!! It's acidic and not too sweet, which makes it perfect to eat with fried foods – like corn fritters. I made some of the dipping sauce for another dish and had some dipping sauce leftover in my fridge. When I was experimenting with the fritter batter, on a lark, I decided to dip some in the Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce. I was transformed by the interesting combination of flavors. Sweetness. Tartness. Mild spiciness. It was heaven. I only wish I came up with the recipe for the dipping sauce!

Even if you don't do the corn fritters, you HAVE to try the Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce. It's to DIE for! Enjoy – and happy dipping!

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Corn Fritters with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce
(Printable Version)

For the Fritter Batter:
1 1/4 c plus 1 TBSP flour
3 TBSP cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 egg, beaten
3/4 c cold club soda or seltzer water
1-11oz can whole kernel niblet corn (drained) OR 15 1/4 oz can of whole corn (drained) OR 1 1/2 c corn
Oil for frying

For the Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce:
Recipe is from Lorraine of Recipezaar

1/2 c mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)
1/4 c yellow mustard
1/4 c honey
1 TBSP rice wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Whisk the honey mustard ingredients together, cover, and chill for 2 hours before serving. This is more like a sauce than a dip so it is fairly thin – which I think works great for the corn fritters.

Heat a pot of oil (about 3" deep) to 350F. Be sure not to fill the pot more than halfway up with oil to allow room for the oil to expand when frying.

While the oil is heating, whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Just before the oil reaches 350F, add the beaten egg and club soda to the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the drained corn and use a spoon to fold it in.

Add about one tablespoon of the batter to the hot oil. I use a small cookie scoop to make it easier. Don't add more than a tablespoon of the fritter batter (or add too many fritters to the oil) or they will not crisp up well. You may be tempted to immediately turn the fritters. Resist that urge. After about a minute, some of the interior batter will start to ooze out – releasing some of that interior moisture that keeps the fritter from getting crispy. The fritter should, when it's ready, flip over by itself. If you flip the fritters over prematurely, the outside will set too fast and the molten center will not ooze out – making a softer exterior.

Transfer the fritters to a paper-towel lined plate and sprinkle them with a little salt. Serve them piping hot with the Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce while you slave away and fry more of the fritters using some of the remaining batter.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Shepherd's Pie Lasagna

My Venture into Non-Traditional Lasagna

Today's recipe is a work in progress. Initially, I was trying to make a meat and potato version of pierogi lasagna. I've had pierogi lasagna made with only potatoes, caramelized onions, and cheese. It was tasty but a bit too carby for my taste. After tweaking this recipe several times, it's now to the point that it's more like a shepherd's pie – hence the name "Shepherd's Pie Lasagna." It has all of the key ingredients in a shepherd's pie but is layered like a lasagna.

I'm not ready to say this recipe is exactly to my liking. Don't get me wrong – it's very tasty. This is comfort food at its finest. If you like meat and potatoes, I think you'll like this dish. That said, I think it can stand some improvement. Sometimes when I'm developing a recipe, I have to step back and not make it for a while. Every so often, I like to post in-progress recipes like this one so my blog buddies can offer advice on improvements. What would you do to make this recipe better? If you make it, what did you think? What does it need? What should I tweak. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!

Do any of you watch the television show "Lost" on ABC? The series finale is tonight (Sunday) and I CANNOT WAIT to watch it. Right before it comes on, I'm turning off my cell phone, shutting off my lights, and making some popcorn. For two hours of ecstasy, I will be sitting in my easy chair without blinking or moving. That show is almost as good as Star Trek. Almost. This Shepherd's Pie Lasagna is a perfect send off for the show. Do you know why? Because the main character's name is Jack SHEPHARD. Get it? Huh?! See…see! Yeah, I know. I need to get a life.

I often get emails from people requesting recipes for dishes they don't know how to make – especially recipes for foods from their favorite restaurants. As many of you know, I really enjoy developing recipes so feel free to let me know what you'd like to see on my blog. If you have any requests, just leave a comment at the bottom of this webpage. If I think your request will have public appeal, I'll try to post a recipe sometime. I hope you like today's experimental recipe. Enjoy – and happy getting "Lost"!

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Shepherd's Pie Lasagna
(Printable Version)

For the Potato Layer:
2 egg yolks
2 c leftover thick mashed potatoes
1/2 c freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 c freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 - 3 TBSP flour (depending on how thick your mashed potatoes are)
1 TBSP butter
1/2 bunch scallions (white and light green parts), chopped

For the Meat Layer:
1 TBSP oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c red wine (such as a merlot)
1 cup frozen peas and carrots
1 can (10 3/4 oz) low-sodium cream of mushroom soup
1 1/2 tsp beef bouillon
1 TBSP worchestershire sauce
1 1/2 c milk
1 1/2 c freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese

For the Top Layer:
1 1/2 c freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 to 3 TBSP cooked and crumbled bacon pieces (I use "Real Bacon" from the salad aisle)

Other Ingredients Needed:
9 No-cook lasagna noodles
Chopped scallions or parsley for garnish

For the Potato Filling: In a large bowl, add the egg yolks, leftover mashed potatoes (cold or room temperature), the cheeses, and the flour then stir to combine. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the chopped scallions and sauté until soft – about 3 minutes. Add the scallions to the potato mixture and stir to combine. Set aside until needed. Note: It is important to you use somewhat thick, leftover mashed potatoes (or use store-bought). If you normally prepare thin mashed potatoes like my grandmother does, the potato filling will not set up properly and will be a bit messy when you cut into the cooked lasagna. It'll still taste good but it will be a bit messy.

For the Meat Filling: In the same skillet you cooked the scallions in, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the hamburger and a little salt (not too much since you'll be adding salty bouillon later) and some pepper. Brown then drain. Return the browned meat to the skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is really hot and the hamburger is sizzling really well, add the wine and stir until it has mostly evaporated and absorbed into the meat – about 4 minutes. This cooks off most of the alcohol so the meat does not end up tasting "boozy." Add the peas and carrots and stir to combine. Add the soup, bouillon, worchestershire sauce, and milk and stir to combine. When the mixture begins to simmer, reduce to medium heat and cover. Simmer 10 minutes (covered), stirring after 5 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to simmer uncovered for 5 additional minutes or until the mixture is pretty thick. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Set aside until needed. You will add the cheddar cheese during assembly.

Assembly Instructions: Preheat the oven to 350F. When the meat is in its last 5 minutes of cooking, fill a 9 x 13" dish with very hot tap water. Place the lasagna noodles in the water and allow them to sit for about 5 minutes – swishing them around every so often to make sure they're not sticking together. After 5 minutes, remove the softened noodles one-by-one from the water and place them on a clean kitchen towel to drain.

Spray a 2-quart dish with cooking spray. Place about 1 cup of the meat filling on the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of the noodles – tearing the noodles as needed to get them to fit in the dish. Place half of the meat filling on the noodles followed by 1 1/2 cups of cheddar cheese. Add another layer of noodles. Next, add the potato filling and spread the potatoes as evenly as possible – going all of the way to the edge of the dish. Add a final layer of noodles then top with the remaining meat mixture. Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups of cheddar cheese on top. Spray a piece of foil with cooking spray and cover the lasagna. Bake for 30 minutes then remove the foil and bake an additional 30 minutes. Sprinkle the bacon pieces on top and return to the oven for 3 minutes to crisp up the bacon. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped scallions or parsley.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Strawberry-Limeade Sorbet

My Venture into Frozen Desserts

It's been a crazy week so I had to do something simple for this week's post. I am not much of a dessert eater but, when I need something quick and easy to make to satisfy a craving for sweets, this is my go-to recipe.

This recipe has only four ingredients and takes less than 5 minutes to make. You will, of course, have to allow the sorbet to freeze before eating it but you can do your own thing while your dessert is chilling in the freezer. This dessert is not for everyone. It's a bit tart but I like it that way. In my opinion, when your taste buds are really stimulated by the sweet-tart combination, you don't eat as much.

Why am I using frozen strawberries? Before you diss my use of frozen fruits, I have to explain my rationale. Frozen fruits are picked at their peak of ripeness and often retain more nutrients than fresh fruits in the produce section – especially if those fruits were picked days/weeks before they arrived at your store. Second, the frozen texture will not be a problem since everything is pureed anyway. Third, everything needs to be chilled so why not start off with some frozen berries? Fourth, I can make this year round without having to use out-of-season fresh strawberries that are expensive and tasteless.

You'll notice that I'm not using an ice-cream maker to make this sorbet. I have used an ice cream maker before and the texture is better – but not so much better that it's worth the extra effort. You do need to use an ice cream maker for ice cream, sherbet, and gelato but you can get away with using a blender or food processor for sorbets. If you have an ice cream maker and the extra time, go for it!

I hope you enjoy this quick and easy dessert that's guaranteed to make you pucker – especially if you add extra limeade concentrate like I do. It's really refreshing. Let summer begin! Enjoy – and happy eating!

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Strawberry-Limeade Sorbet
(Printable Version)

1 16-oz bag frozen whole strawberries (without sugar), thawed in the refrigerator until partially frozen
1 16-oz container frozen strawberries in sugar, thawed in the refrigerator
2 TBSP limeade concentrate, thawed in the refrigerator
Zest of 1 lime

Add all of the ingredients to a food processor (or blender). The ingredients need to be well chilled. I regularly add 1/4 cup of limeade concentrate (instead of 2 TBSP) because I like it extra tart. I've even added a 1/2 cup of the limeade concentrate and enjoyed every last lick. Feel free to add as much or as little as you want. Puree all of the ingredients for about 1 minute – scraping the bowl after 30 seconds.

Pour the liquefied sorbet into a sealable container. Immediately transfer to the freezer and allow to freeze until firm – about 4 to 6 hours (or overnight). As with ice cream, sorbet is best eaten when it has been sitting out for a few minutes to take some of the chill off.

Wanting to cut carbs and calories? You can use frozen strawberries in sugar-free syrup. You can also buy sugar-free limeade concentrate in some stores. The taste is great but the mixture freezes much harder since there is no sugar in it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Individual Chicken Casseroles

My Venture into Motherhood

To be celebrated properly, Mother's Day needs to be a lot longer than a single day! After all, for many of us, your mom was there to fix you dinner, keep your house clean, hug you when you were sad, teach you right from wrong, be your #1 fan at sporting events, and protect you from the monsters that lived under your bed. Cardinal Mermillod once said "A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take." Truer words have never been spoken.

Today's recipe is quick and easy-to-make. It's really tasty and nice to serve in individual gratin dishes. Don't make this for Mother's Day. It's not special enough. Instead, as a surprise, make it for Sunday dinner sometime when she's least expecting it just to remind her that you still care.

I am blessed to have such as great mom who inspired me with her great cooking. I hope you've all been equally blessed and have wonderful memories from your childhood. I know I do! One thing that many of us can agree on is that we love our mothers but they can be a little nutty sometimes – my mother being no exception. I'm sure we all have tales of the crazy, little things our mothers did when we were growing up. For today's post, I came up with a list of things you can do to prove you're a good mother.

You know you're a good mother if you can…
1) Gracefully smooth things over when grandma asks "Now who's that nice young man you brought with you today?" while pointing to your daughter's lesbian girlfriend.
2) Spin your head around like that girl in the Exorcist while driving down the freeway and, in a possessed voice, threaten your son with bodily harm if he doesn't stop bugging his sister.
3) Give your husband the look of death when he asks you to come change the channel since he can't find the remote control for a TV that's 10 feet away.
4) Scream from the bathroom "%$^&#!!! Who left the &@#$% toilet seat up?!" – not realizing a priest is standing in the living room after having just arrived for an unexpected visit.
5) Resist buying something at the store unless it's double-coupon day at the Piggly Wiggly.
6) Guilt your kids into doing something by reminding them that you were almost ripped to shreds after 36 hours of labor that required a 5-stitch episiotomy.
7) Remind your kids on several occasions that, 35 years ago, you ruined her priceless collection of records by using them to skate across the basement floor.
8) Yell loud enough to be heard at a friend's house down the street because somebody ate the last %&#$@ can of fruit cocktail.
9) Smack your husband for allowing your daughter to shave the cat with your leg razor while he calmly watches the nightly news.
10) Maintain your girlish figure while taking care of 4 young kids and subsisting on a diet of entirely Pepsi and cigarettes.

My mother must be a GREAT mother because she's done several of the above things. I love you Ma and Happy Mother's Day!

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Individual Chicken Casseroles
(Printable Version)

2 TBSP softened butter
1 bunch of scallions (white and light green parts), chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (10 3/4 oz) low-sodium cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup
1/2 c milk
1 tsp chicken bouillon granules or Better than Bouillon (or 1 chicken bouillon cube)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 oz softened cream cheese
1 3/4 c sharp cheddar or your favorite cheese, divided use
1 c cooked cubed or hash brown potatoes (I use Simple Potatoes brand in the refrigerated section of my supermarket)
2 c cooked chicken cut into bite-size pieces (I used leftovers from a roasted chicken)
25 butter crackers (such as Ritz or Townhouse), roughly broken into small pieces
2 TBSP butter, melted
1 c french fried onions (optional)
Garnish with chopped scallions and finely diced red bell pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.

Heat a skillet over medium heat with the butter. After the butter has melted, add the scallions and cook about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the soup, milk, bouillon, paprika, and black pepper and stir to combine. Heat until the mixture is hot then add the cream cheese and 1 cup of cheddar cheese (reserve the remaining cheddar cheese for the top). Stir until the cheeses melt. Fold in the potatoes and chicken. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Spoon the chicken mixture evenly into 3 individual gratin dishes (or an 8x8" baking dish) that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle 1/4 c of cheese on top of the chicken mixture in each dish.

In a medium bowl, break the crackers into small pieces (about 1/2"). Do not pulverize into crumbs. Add two tablespoons of melted butter and stir to combine. Top each gratin dish with 1/3 of the crackers. Place the gratin dishes on a sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes or until the top is nicely browned and the casseroles are bubbling around the edges. If using french fried onions, add to the top during the last 4 minutes of cooking. Garnish with chopped scallion tops and finely diced red bell pepper.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Homemade Protein Bars

My Venture into Protein Bars

There are times when I am in a hurry and I don't have time to sit down for a proper breakfast or lunch. Meal-replacement bars are a great way to get a bite to eat without resorting to fast food. To me, however, most commercially sold protein bars, cereal bars, and energy bars are little more than glorified candy bars that are loaded with empty carbs, high-fructose corn syrup, and overly processed ingredients.

Over the years, I've gone through phases when I've purchased protein bars by the bag full. They are SO outrageously expensive. On top of that, some protein bars are so hard to chew that I practically pull out my teeth trying to take a bite out of one. Finally, I said enough is enough and I set out to formulate my own protein bar.

I wanted a bar that was high in protein, had a good amount of fiber, was not overly sweet nor carby, and had heart-healthy fats. I wanted to make a bar made with wholesome ingredients that I could pronounce that would not leave me feeling guilty about eating later on. I also wanted a bar that would keep me full and not leave me feeling deprived like many store-bought bars do. Most of all, I wanted the bar to TASTE GOOD and not taste like I've just taken a bite out of the business section of the telephone book. Is this too much to ask for a meal-replacement bar?

These bars are very high in protein and will keep you full for hours. The fiber will keep your blood sugar from spiking too fast. Every ingredient in these bars have health value – even the cinnamon and salt. Yes, salt. Salt, after all, is a nutrient and is only bad when it is over-consumed. I actually feel like I'm being HEALTHY when I eat one of these great-tasting bars. I never miss fast food when I make these babies. They also make great snacks when you're in the mood for something a little sweet.

These bars are not baked and can be thrown together in less than 10 minutes. You can prepare them the night before so the family can grab them as they're heading out the door in the morning. You could eat one on the way to work while listening to a CD of Cher's greatest hits or while riding the bus next to some guy with a mohawk, pierced lips, and tattooed eyeliner. They are so easy to make, ask your kids to help you make them. I store them in the fridge for those times I need a quick meal or a healthy snack. Do you have teenagers who never have time for breakfast or a husband who thinks a Pop Tart is part of a well-balanced meal? If so, these bars are perfect! You can even throw some in your kids' book bags if they get a little hungry at school. Give these bars a try and see how you like them. I hope you like them as much as I do. Trust me – healthy eating never tasted so good! Enjoy – and happy barring!

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Homemade Protein Bars
(Printable Version)

3/4 c old-fashioned oats
½ c oat flour
1/2 tsp table salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 scoops vanilla protein powder
1/2 c non-fat dry milk
2 TBSP flaxseeds, finely ground
2 TBSP sunflower seeds
1/3 c peanut butter (natural peanut butter works great!)
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 c water
1/4 c honey or to taste
1/2 c nuts (as pictured, I used almonds, pistachios, and cashews)
1/2 c dried fruit (as pictured, I used dried cherries, dried cranberries, and dried apricots)

Line an 8x8" dish with foil leaving a few inches of extra foil extending over edges of the dish. You will use this extra foil to grab onto when you remove the bars from the dish later on. Very lightly spray the foil with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the oats, oat flour, salt, cinnamon, protein powder, dry milk powder, and seeds. In a small bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, vanilla, water, and honey. Microwave for about 45 seconds. Whisk then combine the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients and stir to combine. The mixture will be quite thick. Add the nuts and dried fruit and stir to combine. Roughly spread the mixture into the foil-lined dish. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the "dough" and compress the mixture evenly in the dish. Leave the plastic wrap on and place in the fridge for an hour or until firm. After an hour, remove and discard the plastic wrap. Use the foil to lift the mixture out of the dish. Slide the mixture off of the foil and cut the block into 8 bars. Place the bars in a sealable container. Since this mixture contains no preservatives, I recommend keeping them refrigerated.

1) I have never used instant oats with this recipe so I do not know if they will work as well.
2) Whole flaxseeds are not readily digestible so it is best to grind them in a spice grinder or a mini food processor. If you do not have a way to grind them, just make sure you chew the bars well to better ensure the flaxseeds will be absorbed and release their healthy goodness.
3) These bars can be made gluten-free if you buy the right brand of oats and protein powder.
4) Do you have teenage sons participating in sports? Consider increasing the protein powder by another scoop.
5) On a low-salt diet? Reduce or eliminate the salt.
6) Watching your blood sugar or carbs? Reduce the amount of honey (or substitute sugar-free maple syrup for the honey) and reduce the amount of dried fruit.
7) Watching your fat intake? Reduce the amount of peanut butter and/or nuts.
7.5) Watching your salt, carbs, AND fat intake? Skip this recipe and eat the wrapper off of a ding dong.
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