Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Szechuan Chicken with Peanuts

Growing up my family had a favorite Chinese restaurant that we frequented nearly weekly for dine-in or carryout.  We knew the names of the servers, were friendly with the owners, and had the menu completely memorized.  Whenever I came home from college for a visit, a trip to the Chinese restaurant was always on the agenda.  Stan and I even considered hosting the rehearsal dinner for our wedding at my beloved restaurant.  (We ended up going for a backyard barbecue instead.)

Considering my deep and abiding love (and ingrained habit) for Chinese food, you can imagine my dismay upon discovering the lack of good Chinese food in Nashville.  (Nashville folks, if you’ve got a recommendation, I’d love to hear it!)  I’ve looked around, asked long-time residents, and tried some less than stellar venues.  While Nashville has many other amazing options for ethic cuisine, Chinese food is just not where my current hometown shines.

Since I don’t get back to Dayton as often as I’d like, I’ve had to come up with ways to get my Chinese food fix in my own kitchen.  The recipes I’ve tried are certainly not as authentic as those you’d find in a restaurant, but they tide me over until I can get the real deal.  And besides, they’re pretty darn delicious. 

Like this recipe for Szechuan Chicken with Peanuts.  You can make this recipe in less time that it would take to pick up carryout, and I guarantee you it’s healthier than its restaurant counterpart.  Strips of chicken breast are quickly stir fried (not deep fried) with carrots, green pepper, and peanuts and then tossed in a slightly spicy (or really spicy, if that’s how you like it) brown sauce that’s rich in flavor without being high in calories.  Served with some rice, it’s as good as take out - with half the time and calories.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Queso Chicken Pasta

Let’s talk guilty pleasures.  We all have them.  Those embarrassing little things that we secretly love and crave even though we know we shouldn’t.  Maybe it’s rich desserts, trashy reality shows, or teeny bopper pop music.  Maybe it’s all three.  (And if it is, don’t be embarrassed.  I’m with you on two of the three.  Which two, though, I’m keeping secret.) 

I am, however, willing to tell you about my new guilty pleasure.  Its name is queso.  Yup, queso, as in the melty, cheesy, gooey dip you get at Mexican restaurants and consume with obscene amounts of tortilla chips.  The one I never craved or desired before a new Mexican restaurant opened nearby.  A restaurant that has a great happy hour with delicious, cheap margaritas.  And what are you supposed to eat with those margaritas?  Chips and queso, of course. 

The problem here is that we like this restaurant a lot.  It’s in one of our favorite neighborhoods, it has a nice patio, and like I said before, they have good, cheap margaritas.  Needless to say, we go there fairly often.  And I eat an unreasonable amount of chips dipped in queso.  And then I feel guilty.  But I still crave more.  See?  Guilty pleasure.

Today’s recipe got me all fired up because it combines my all-time love, pasta, with my new-found love, queso.  It tastes just like it sounds: pasta mixed with queso.  And if that doesn’t sound good to you, just trust me.  Imagine tender pasta baked with a creamy (yet still somehow light-tasting) cheese sauce flecked with onion and chile.  The addition of shredded chicken ups the protein and makes the dish a complete meal.  Served up with some veggies (cause a little green is a good thing), this Queso Chicken Pasta is a winner – and one that I feel slightly less guilty about since it doesn’t involve multiple baskets of chips. That being said, I gotta know, what are your guilty pleasures??

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Edamame Succotash

I know I’ve been giving you a lot of vegetable recipes lately.  I’m sure you’re wondering where the sugar and bread and meat have gone.  Or maybe where you live it’s also 123 degrees every day, and you can’t think much past lighter, veg-heavy dishes either – especially if they’re jazzed up with the good stuff.  Lately we’ve had vegetables with goat cheese, vegetables with Pecorino and almonds, and most recently, we’ve had vegetables with bacon.  You can handle another veggie recipe if it contains bacon, right?

I hope so, because today’s recipe for Edamame Succotash is a good one.  Succotash is a dish traditionally made with corn and lima beans, and sometimes tomatoes and bell peppers.  This recipe swaps out the usual lima beans for edamame – the bright green soybeans you eat straight from the pod at Japanese restaurants. 

This dish is quick-cooking, easy to make, and packed with great flavor and texture.  Fresh corn from the cob, juicy tomatoes, crunchy red bell pepper, sweet Vidalia onion, and those bright green soybeans come together in a colorful and delicious combination.  The crisp bacon and fresh basil added at the end take the succotash from ordinary to something pretty darn delicious.

Succotash is a great summer side that works well at barbecues and picnics since it doesn’t contain any mayo or dairy.   And, since edamame packs a big protein punch, you could also serve the succotash as a light entrĂ©e, with some great bread alongside.  However you serve it, I think you’ll like it.  I mean, c’mon, there’s bacon in there!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Shaved Summer Squash Salad

Last night I tried a new salad recipe.  It rocked my world.  It was so good I’m making it again tonight.  In fact, I might make it every night for the rest of the summer.  Ok, perhaps not every night, but definitely often.  Because this salad is summer in a bowl (or on a plate).  It combines some of my absolute favorite flavors and tosses them all together in one glorious heap.  It’s fast, fresh, and seasonal.  And man, oh man, it is so delicious.

This Shaved Summer Squash Salad combines thin ribbons of fresh, raw zucchini and yellow squash with a bright, lemony dressing.  Bitter arugula, sharp Pecorino cheese, and crunchy toasted almonds add flavor and texture.  The recipe makes four servings, but Stan and I polished off the entire bowl.  In fact, I had to fight him for seconds – he liked this salad so much he wanted three servings.  Considering he’s a serious meat and potatoes kind of guy, I think that’s just about the highest praise there is.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Asparagus with Balsamic Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

When it comes to weeknight cooking, fast, easy, and delicious are my favorite buzzwords.  Are you with me on this one?  If so, you are going to love today’s recipe with a capital L.  Asparagus with Balsamic Tomatoes and Goat Cheese – what’s not to like?  Just the name has my mouth watering.  (If you haven’t noticed, I kind of have a thing for goat cheese.)

This recipe uses fresh asparagus – plentiful, inexpensive, and in-season at this time of year.  The asparagus gets a quick cook (we’re talking 2 to 3 minutes) in boiling water before getting an incredibly flavorful topping.  To make the topping, halved grape tomatoes are quickly cooked with a little garlic and balsamic vinegar.  That sounds simple enough, but the flavor produced is anything but.  As the tomatoes cook, they get soft and sweet and a little tangy from the vinegar.  After a couple of minutes, the tomatoes take on an almost jam-like consistency.  It is “lick the pan” good.  And it takes about 5 minutes.  The fact that creamy goat cheese tops every off is the icing on the cake. 

A few notes: this recipe originally called for using whole asparagus spears.  I had intended to prepare mine that way as well, but my asparagus was on its way out the door, and the tips weren’t looking so hot.  I decided to trim them off and go for bite-sized pieces instead.  Not as pretty, perhaps, but nice and easy to eat.  Also, while this recipe is delicious made with asparagus, I think it would be equally delicious using any number of vegetables, especially green beans, spinach, or roasted broccoli.  The balsamic tomatoes and goat cheese would also make an amazing topping for bruschetta, polenta, or even pasta.  However you tweak it (or make it as it), this recipe is a spring and summer weeknight winner.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Louisiana-Style Shrimp

Lately I’ve been a bit of a delinquent.  A blogging delinquent.  As in, I have been seriously delinquent in posting with any regularity.  I know it.  You know.  Can we please agree to forgive and forget?  I’m still trying to figure out this whole full-time working and regular blogging thing.  (There’s a reason I started this site when I was just out of grad school and still unemployed!) 

I’ve got this whole new time management plan worked out though, so things should be better.  Ok, not really, I’m not that organized, but it certainly helps that all of my TV shows are done for the summer.  So much time back in my life.  Time I plan to be spending with you and some deliciously good food.  So let’s get to it.

Today’s recipe for Louisiana-Style Shrimp is one of my new favorites.  I’ve only made it once, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since – and wishing I’d doubled the recipe the first time around.  In this dish, plump, juicy shrimp are cooked in a smoky, slightly spicy, and richly flavorful sauce containing andouille sausage, peppers, onions, garlic, and beer.  Surprisingly, there are no tomatoes in this recipe – the sauce gets its reddish tint from a liberal dose of smoked (or regular) paprika.  Easy enough for a weeknight (if you have a little bit of time) and special enough to serve to company, I have a feeling this Louisiana-Style Shrimp recipe will be making frequent repeat appearances in our kitchen. 


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