Thursday, February 24, 2011

Honey Lime Chicken Enchiladas

Certain flavor combinations have always called to me. Chocolate and peanut butter. Peanut butter and banana. And sure, some savory combos, too – I put garlic and onions in almost everything. One of my more recent flavor loves is the combination of honey and lime. Mixed together, these sweet and tart flavors can be found in cuisines all over the world. (And in my favorite Thai Honey Peanut Chicken/Tofu.)

Today’s recipe takes honey and lime south of the border for some Mexican-style fare. Honey Lime Chicken Enchiladas. Don’t they just sound delicious? I mean, really. Shreds of juicy chicken coated in a sweet and tangy marinade. Gooey Monterey Jack cheese. Creamy, dreamy, green enchilada sauce enriched with a (not so) healthy dose of cream or half and half. More gooey cheese on top to add a gorgeous golden brown crackle. Heaven.

The fact that these enchiladas are simple to make is really just the icing on the cake. The important thing to note is that you need precooked chicken for this recipe. Otherwise you have to cook some up before you can get on with the filling, the rolling, and the baking. And, you know, the eating. You can use any simply flavored leftover chicken you have on hand; you want the chicken to have relatively plain flavor since you are going to be putting it in a marinade. You can also use store-bought rotisserie chicken. If you don’t have cooked chicken on hand, you can quickly poach some chicken breasts or cook them in a little chicken broth in a slow cooker for a few hours.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Weeknight Bolognese

No matter how many fancy, exotic, or ethnic foods I have the pleasure and opportunity to try, I always come back to my old favorites. Spaghetti and meat sauce has been one of my favorite dishes since childhood. When I was little, this meal consisted of a box of pasta, a package of ground meat, and a jar of store-bought sauce. Over time we started to add fresh mushrooms, and aromatics like onion and garlic to jazz things up a bit. It wasn’t until I was in high school though, that I tried my hand at making sauce from scratch.

And that kind of changed my pasta-eating life. When I realized how easy it is to make homemade sauce, I knew I had no excuse for not doing it more often. (In the interest of full disclosure, I still keep store-bought marinara sauce in my cabinet for last-minute spaghetti dinners.) I’ve made many meat sauces over the years, but I have to tell you, I am utterly in love with today’s recipe.

This Weeknight Bolognese is an Ina Garten recipe. I don’t think I’ve ever made any of her recipes that didn’t turn out well, so when I came across this one in her latest cookbook, I knew I had to try it. Bolognese is typically a long-simmering meat sauce that is not the most practical for weeknight dinners. This recipe speeds things up while still managing to pack in an enormous amount of flavor. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but there’s something in the sauce that had me marveling at the flavor with every bite I took. This pasta is rich and hearty but not too heavy. It has a little spice and a little kick of heat. It is divine, and it is absolutely my new favorite recipe for pasta with meat sauce.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie

When I first came across this recipe, it kind of blew my mind. I like cookies, and I like pie, but I have to say it had never occurred to me to make a cookie pie. Since I don’t think you can (almost) ever have too much of a good thing, the prospect of taking a pie crust and filling it with cookie dough seemed to be a special kind of genius.

I made this Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie for our Valentine’s Day dessert, and let me tell you, it lived up to my expectations. Plus it got me thinking – what else would be tasty baked up in a pie shell? Frosted cake pie? Brownie pie? The fattening, delicious possibilities are endless.

But I digress. This pie is a dream for several reasons. First, it comes together in a snap and requires no fancy equipment. Since my burnt hand isn’t quite healed yet, I used my stand mixer to help me out. The cookie dough itself is made a little differently than traditional cookie dough, which results in a softer, fluffier dough that is easy to scoop into a pie crust. (You can go all out and make a homemade crust or go the quick and easy version and pick one up at the store.)

Another reason this pie rocks is that it is equally good served warm (not hot) or at room temperature. When it is warm, the chocolate chips are all melty and the filling is enticingly gooey.

When the pie cools to room temperature, the filling sets up a bit more and the chocolate solidifies. Served this way I think you get a little bit more of the cookie essence. No matter the temp, this pie is rich, so small slices are a must – especially if you decide to top them off with scoops of vanilla ice cream or dollops of whipped cream.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spiked Blueberry Crumb Bars

Over the past couple of years, I’ve tried more and more to cook seasonally. By that I mean that I try to use in-season produce as much as possible – if it’s local too, so much the better. Nashville is a fantastic city for seasonal cooking as we have an array of farmers markets, organic markets, specialty stores, and supermarkets. I realize that not everyone has the time or interest to visit multiple food stores per week, but for a foodie like me, it’s pretty great.

That being said, I’m sure you’re asking yourself why I’m featuring a blueberry recipe today when blueberries are most certainly not in season – at least not in the U.S. Here’s why – my loving husband and sweet father-in-law went grocery shopping for us last weekend and picked up a huge container of blueberries since they know I love them. You can’t fault them for that! The blueberries had good flavor, but their texture was a little mealy. We didn’t want to eat them straight out of the container, but I knew they would be perfect for baking.

A quick scan through my ever-growing list of waiting-to-be-tried dessert recipes led me to these Spiked Blueberry Crumb Bars. The recipe called for the exact amount of blueberries I had on hand and could be made relatively easily with only one hand – and the help of my trusty stand mixer. (I made these a few days post-burn.)

I must say, in season or not, I’m so glad we had these blueberries hanging out in our fridge because these crumb bars rock. A sweet (but not too sweet) blueberry filling is spiked with a little rum (or lemon juice if you’re not feeling the rum) and sandwiched between two layers of crumbly crust. The bars are delicious warm, cold, or room temperature. After some scientific taste testing, I’d have to say we like them best very cold, right out of the fridge. The recipe makes a lot so these crumb bars would be perfect for entertaining, made for a fancy brunch dessert or served with tea after dinner. I finally had to pop the last few into the freezer to save us from ourselves.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cherry Cobbler

Ok, friends, it may be a week and a day later than planned, but it’s finally time to kick off our Second Annual Sweets Week! Better late than never, right? My hand has healed enough that I’m back in the kitchen, and I’m thrilled to bring you some new sweets to share with the sweeties in your lives.

I think it’s only fitting to start things off with the recipe responsible for my second-degree burns, er, I mean the small delay in posting this recipe. And let me tell you, this cherry cobbler was almost worth the pain. Okay, not really, but it is crazy good.

In addition to being delicious, this cherry cobber recipe is very easy to make. You make a quick-cooking cherry filling and top it with small, fluffy, sugar-crusted, biscuits. When it comes out of the oven the cherries are bursting with (not too) sweet juice that soaks into the bottom of the biscuits, giving them lovely cherry-soaked bursts of flavor. Served warm with some vanilla ice cream on top, this might just become your new favorite dessert. It is definitely going to be making frequent appearances in our home – with a stack of oven mitts nearby.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Warm Spinach and White Bean Dip

Like many people, I have an unfortunate weakness for cheesy, creamy, gooey, and otherwise fattening foods. Not surprisingly, I’ve always been a big fan of warm dips. Knowing their relative lack of healthy merit, I rarely make them at home. Last week however, I made dip… twice. In my (arteries’) defense, one recipe was far healthier than your average hot dip. The other… not so much. Both were delicious though, and I’ve been looking forward to telling you about them.

Today I present to you a healthy warm spinach dip. Unlike the spinach dips you can get, well, pretty much everywhere, this recipe is not a cream cheese/mayo/sour cream fat bomb. You can actually feel good about eating this dip. And since I have pretty much no willpower around foods I love, that is a very good thing as far as I’m concerned.

This recipe is a different spin on a traditional spinach dip. The base is a puree of creamy white beans and fluffy ricotta cheese, which makes for a somewhat thicker dip than usual. Spinach gives the dip its color and lemon zest and fresh chives give it some zing. Fresh from the oven, this spinach and white bean dip is delicious with veggies, toast, pita chips, etc. It would also make a great vegetarian sandwich spread. Leftovers dry out a bit, so dig in while the dip is at its creamy best.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Too Hot to Handle

Well friends, I have good news and bad news. Let’s start with the bad news and get that unpleasantness out of the way. Two nights ago, I was making dessert for my in-laws who were visiting for a few days. In the process of being more focused on getting a good shot of my dessert than on remembering that I’d just pulled the skillet out of the oven, I wrapped my hand around a 400-degree handle. Let’s just say it wasn’t pleasant and leave it at that. I spent the last night of their visit in the emergency room and have spent the past two days with my hand wrapped up in gauze, mummy-style.

A trip to the burn clinic today – one of those “we have to make it worse so it can get better” things – has left me pretty much unable to do any cooking for the next week. (I can’t get my hand wet, and I consider hand washing to be an important part of cooking. Plus I can’t really do much with three fingers and my entire palm out of commission.)

Here’s the real kicker – I have been looking forward to our Second Annual Sweets Week for the past month. I was looking forward to sharing a different dessert recipe with you every day this week, and I was counting on having the early part of this week to finish up my baking. Clearly that isn’t going to happen, so I am so bummed to say that Sweets Week will be delayed for a week. This is especially bothersome to me considering the whole “sweets for your sweet” thing is a little less fun the week after Valentine’s Day. You’re a nice group of folks, though. I know you’ll understand!

Here’s the good news though. I have several non-dessert recipes that I can’t wait to tell you about. I’ve already cooked them and photographed them, so all I have to do is type up my posts using whatever fingers happen to not be wrapped in gauze that day! (I am incredibly lucky that I burnt my left hand since I am a rightie.) Be on the lookout for something delicious coming at you tomorrow. And for goodness sake, please be careful with hot handles!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Skillet Lasagna

I love this recipe. I really do. I love it because it’s easy. I love it because, like the Chili Mac I told you about recently, the entire meal cooks in one skillet. Most of all, I love it because it brought lasagna back into my kitchen. And that is a glorious thing.

I grew up eating lasagna on a fairly regular basis. My mom would make it all the time for company and often just for our family, too. Stan, however, did not grow up eating pasta. When we first met, he had very little interest in my carb of choice. Being the pasta-lover that I am, I sort of beat him into submission through years of pasta dinners. Seven years later, he likes a good bowl of pasta. What he doesn’t like, however, is lasagna. No matter whether it came from a restaurant, my mom, or us making it together, Stan has never met a lasagna that he genuinely liked.

This Skillet Lasagna changed everything. Stan loved it. He went back for seconds. I had to stop him from eating thirds so that he’d have enough left for lunch the next day. In other words, for the two of us, this recipe is a winner. It’s a perfect dinner – a skillet full of broken lasagna noodles, cooked until al dente, in a flavorful meat sauce. There’s cheese in this version too, but it accents the pasta rather than taking a starring role. Dollops of creamy ricotta and a light sprinkling of mozzarella and Parmesan decorate the top of the pasta. Topped off with some fresh basil confetti, this skillet lasagna looks as good as it tastes.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Best" Beans and Rice

As I’ve told you before, I have a terrible habit of throwing quick meals together without bothering to write down what I’m doing or taking pictures along the way. Sometimes that’s for the best. I get cranky when I’m hungry and can’t always be bothered with taking pictures, lest I become a crazy, hungry beast. And no, I am not pregnant. Just hungry.

Sometimes, however, my spur of the moment recipe creations are so drool-inducingly good that I kick myself for not taking the extra few minutes to capture what I was doing. For some reason, I seem to do this most often with last-minute pasta dinners and thrown-together-with-odds-and-ends weekend lunches. The latter was the case with this recipe, pulled together with random leftovers from the fridge and pantry staples. And man, oh man, was it good. So good I wished I had taken pictures along the way. Since I didn’t, I immediately typed up a post and the recipe before I could forget it. And then I forgot to make it again… for an entire year.

And let me tell you how stupid I feel about that. I could have (and would have) been eating this regularly for the past year. I don’t often repeat recipes, but I will be making an exception for this one all year long. I call this recipe “Best” Beans and Rice, not necessarily because it’s the best beans and rice I’ve ever had (though it is certainly up there), but rather because it’s the best version of beans and rice I’ve ever made. We always have canned beans and rice hanging out in the pantry, perfect for throwing together meals in a hurry. Over the years, I’ve tried many different variations to spice up those basic ingredients, and while they were always good, they were never really worth sharing with you. This time, however, I think I nailed the recipe on the head.

The combination of whole and ground cumin seeds adds smokiness and spice without heat. The diced green chilies add a slight kick of heat without overpowering the flavor of the other ingredients. Black and pinto beans add body and creaminess, while the rice sort of ties everything together. This dish makes for a savory, flavor-packed meatless entrĂ©e, side dish, or burrito filling. Plus it’s simple and inexpensive to make. In my book, it really is the “Best”.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cocoa Banana Bread

I keep telling myself I’m not going to post anymore banana bread recipes. At least not for awhile. At least not until you’ve forgotten how many I’ve already posted in the past year. And I’ve kept good on my promise for a little while. It’s been three months since I’ve posted a banana bread/muffin recipe. I even tried a new recipe during that time, decided that it wasn’t good enough to merit breaking my vow of silence, and didn’t tell you about it. I’ve been so good. Will you forgive me now for not being able to resist any longer? It’s for a good reason, I promise.

I knew this banana bread would be a winner from the get-go. The ingredients are fabulous – and simple. Butter and buttermilk to guarantee moist, rich bread. Lots of cocoa powder for gorgeous, dark color and deep, chocolaty flavor. Bananas, of course, and chocolate chips too – you know, just in case this bread wasn’t rich enough already. From tasting the batter alone, I knew it would be divine.

The baking time for recipe is a little longer than most banana breads I’ve made, which makes sense given the heft and density of the loaf. To keep the top of the loaf from getting too dark before the middle cooks through, you just have to place a little foil tent over the bread about halfway through baking. I was skeptical if this would work, since my oven runs hot, but it worked perfectly. My loaf came out beautifully, just begging to be sliced into – but I resisted and let it cool completely so it would be easier to slice. And when I did… chocolate banana bread bliss, totally worthy of breaking my vow of silence.


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