Monday, February 25, 2013

Red Velvet Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

This is my newest favorite right now.  I am currently obsessed with red velvet cake.  And I can't fully tell if it is of the mere fact that it is a chocolate cake, and being that I am a lady and all ladies crave the chocolate, or if it is because there is then the irrefutable excuse to slather on gobs of cream cheese frosting.  Because, truth be told, that is the ultimate craving of mine, anything cream cheese that is.  So it's kind of like fate that these two foodly desires of mine walk hand-in-hand in a cake.  Completely perfect in every way I say.

1 box of red velvet cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Super Moist)
1- 3.9oz. box of instant chocolate pudding mix
1 1/4 cups of water
1/2 cup of canola oil
3 eggs (at room temperature- so you get the proper rise on your cake)
8-10 drops of red food coloring (optional- I wanted it to be a brighter red)
1 recipe of my homemade cream cheese frosting
a handful of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips for garnish

-Preheat your oven to 350*.  Grease the bottom of a 9x13" baking dish; set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, stir together the cake mix and the pudding mix.  Next, using a handheld mixer on low, beat in the water, oil, eggs and food coloring for a minute.  Then, beat it on medium for 2 more minutes.  Pour the batter into your greased baking dish and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until an inserted wooden toothpick pulls out clean.  While it is baking, go ahead and prepare my cream cheese frosting as directed in my linked above recipe, cover and set aside until ready to use.  Allow your cake to fully cool before spreading on the frosting and garnishing with the mini chocolate chips.  Serves 12.  Enjoy!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sweetened Red Wine Marinara with Butternut Squash and Cheese Filled Ravioli

Talk about a flavor combination made in heaven when it comes to this delicious dish.  The warm cinnamon sweetness of the butternut squash filled ravioli's work perfectly with the deep roasted sweetness of the peppers.  And the sweetened red wine marinara works as a ribbon, threading both contrasting flavors together.

1 medium yellow onion (roasted according to my recipe: )
1 green sweet pepper (roasted according to my recipe: )
1-2 T. of extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic (minced)
1/2 cup or so of red wine (you should cook with what you like to drink- so I used a slightly semi-sweet red wine called Country Red by St. James Winery out of Missouri)
1- 14.5oz. can of sliced stewed tomatoes (un-drained)
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
1 tsp. of Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. of dried basil
1 tsp. of sugar
1- 26oz. jar of pasta sauce (I used Prego's Tomato Basil Garlic)
1 bag of cheese filled ravioli (frozen)
1 bag of butternut squash filled ravioli (frozen)
fresh or dried chopped Italian parsley (for garnish)

-Once your roasted veggies have cooled enough to handle, go ahead and chop them into short strips.  Heat up a large sauce pan over medium-high heat with the extra virgin olive oil.  Once you can smell the oil, toss in your roasted veggies and your minced garlic.  Saute until heated through (about 30 seconds or so), then pour in your red wine.  Bring this to a nice simmer and then add in the tomatoes, their juices and the pasta sauce.  Stir in the sea salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, basil and sugar. Again bring this all to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer on low until you are ready to eat (as always the longer the better).  Prepare your ravioli as directed on their packaging in boiling water, drain and plate with a heaping ladle full of your sauce and veggies.  Then sprinkle the top with a bit of fresh chopped parsley.  Serves 4-6.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Beer and Cheeseburger Soup

Well, if that old sayin' is true and the way to a man's heart is really through his stomach, then this here soup should be the poster board dish to accomplish just that.  I mean, you find me a man that does not like a beer with his burger....... they are few and far between I bet.  This soup embodies both distinct flavors and rounds them right in together.  It really truly is just as tasty as it sounds.  I would label this a must-make recipe for any one that has a guy that likes a beer with his burger.

1 lb. of 80/20 ground beef
1 large vidalia sweet onion (chopped)
3 stalks of celery (sliced thin)
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
3 cloves of garlic (minced)
2 bratwurst (grilled and diced)
1 tsp. of McCormick's Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning
3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
1 pint of whipping cream
1- 12oz. can of a beer of your choice
2- 14.5oz. cans of chicken stock
1/4 tsp. of ground cumin
1 bay leaf
2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 lb. of sliced brick cheese (from the deli)
1- 14.5oz. can of petite diced tomatoes (drained)

-In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, break up your ground beef into small bits.  Then add in the onion,celery and a good amount of salt and pepper.  Once the meat is cooked and the veggies are translucent, add in your garlic, diced cooked bratwurst, and steak seasoning.  Once you can smell the garlic (about 30 seconds or so), stir in the flour to coat it all with.  Continue to stir and cook the flour onto the mixture for a minute or two.  Once it has begin to just barely brown on the mixture, go ahead and pour in your whipping cream and cook this down a bit so it thickens up.  Once it begins to come to a boil, pour in the beer, chicken stock, cumin and bay leaf (making sure you are stirring throughout the entire preparation).  Bring this all up to a boil again and stir in your cheeses and drained tomatoes.  Once every one's in the pot and all melted down it is ready to serve or just cover and simmer on low until you are ready.  Serves 4.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Italian Grilled Cheese

Well, it is mighty cold here today.  In fact it is down right absolutely freezing cold.  And when it gets like this I am ready for some grilled cheese and tomato soup to warm up my frozen soul.  That's always what my Mom would make when we were little and it got like this outside.  It was something that I always looked forward to every winter.  Grilled cheese and tomato soup that is, not necessarily the 10* weather that instigated the meal.  So, this is my 'grown-up' version of a winter-time classic favorite of many.  Not only will it warm me up, but also it will quench some of my guilty-pleasure cravings as well.

12 spears of grilled fresh asparagus (see my recipe for it
1 roasted red bell pepper cut into thin strips (see my recipe for it
8 thick slices of provolone cheese
8 slices of Italian white bread
real butter

-Heat a large skillet (I use a double burner griddle) over medium heat.  Assemble four sandwiches each with a slice of cheese, followed by 3 spears of grilled asparagus, a few slices of roasted peppers and lastly another slice of cheese on top.  Butter both the outside of the top and the bottom piece of bread well, making sure to get all the way to the edges.  Toss your sandwiches onto your hot skillet and cook just a few minutes on each side (watching carefully not to burn them, but to give them a nice dark golden browning).  Once they are done, plate them and slice them in half.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cran-Jalapeno Jam

Well, if I didn't admit to a bit of kitchen-improve here I would deceiving you all....  This was not exactly my direction with this jam, but all in all I love it even better than the routine jalapeno jelly that I set out to make.  And see, did you notice there that I set out to make a jelly...not a jam?  That's because this absent-minded kitchen fairy completely forgot to push it through the cheesecloth, which mind you I set out at 8 o'clock last night in the rain to get, just so I could make a jelly instead of a jam.  Giving me the end result of a jam and not a jelly.  Also, there is the ever noticeable addition of cranberries into my recipe here, changing the color from pale translucent green to a deep, rich, dark red wine color.  And adding in a bit of fruity tang, which I myself know is exactly what it was missing.  Don't get me wrong, I love jalapeno jelly, but I did almost kind of in a way think that it needed something else.  Something to balance it off and round it out a bit.  And this is exactly what it needed.  I only had to stumble onto using them because I did not defrost enough of my homegrown jalapenos.  It was fate above all that put those cranberries in my fridge now as well.  So, I have to thank my crazed-over busy holiday for that (they were supposed to be strung with popcorn and draped around our Christmas tree, but somebody never got around to it.....).  Sometimes the greatest recipes result from poor planning and procrastination ;)

3/4 cup of fresh jalapenos (tops cut off, sliced in half lengthwise and membranes/ seeds removed)
2 additional fresh jalapenos (treated the same but then diced up real fine-set aside)
3/4 cup of fresh whole cranberries
2 cups of apple-cider vinegar (divided)
6 cups + 2 T. of sugar
1- 3oz. packet of liquid pectin (I am into the liquid form now-just always turns out perfect)
 6- 1/2 pint quilted mason jars with new lids/ rings
canning jar tongs (a must for removing the jars from the boiling stockpot)

-First and foremost, wash your jars, lids and rings in very hot soapy water and rinse well. Place the jars, lids and rings into a large canning stockpot, filled halfway with water and covered with a lid over a high flame. Let this heat up to a boil and hold the boil for 10 minutes to sterilize them. Using the tongs, remove the jars, lids and rings to your towel lined counter top.  Place the lid back on the stockpot and return it to a rolling boil that will be ready for the jam.  Meanwhile, puree the 3/4 cup of jalapenos, cranberries and 1 cup of the apple-cider vinegar together (I did it in my blender).  Once they are blended smooth, add in the last 1 cup of vinegar and give it one more whirl to combine it all.  Pour this into a large saucepan over high heat.  Once it has just begun to boil, add in the sugar, reserved diced jalapeno bits and continue stirring it until it has dissolved.  Let it boil for 10 minutes while you constantly keep stirring it.  Bring this up to a rolling frothy boil that cannot be stirred down and stir in all of the liquid pectin. Return this to a boil, while constantly stirring for one whole minute. Remove it from the heat and using a metal spoon, skim off any froth from the top to discard (mine didn't need this this time, but yours may).  Go ahead and ladle in the hot jam into each of your hot, empty mason jars. Leave a 1/4" of head space at the top of each jar (the empty space at the top to keep them from exploding-yep very important). Place the lids on the center of each top and screw the rings on hand-tight. Once your canning stockpot has returned to a boil, using your canning jar tongs, return the mason jars to the boiling stockpot (right-side up). Cover with the lid and let them process in the boiling pot for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, remove the stockpot from the heat and let the jars continue to sit in the stockpot for 5 more minutes. Lastly using your canning jar tongs, remove your mason jars to your towel lined counter. Place them upside down (people have told me that this is no longer 'the way to do it', but old habits die hard and I tend to stick to what works for me) to cool. Once the jars have cooled down to room temperature, turn them right-side up. You will hear the lids pop in at this time if they have not done so already (sometimes I will pop the lid down on some of them as I am checking them, that is OK as long as it does not pop back up). If you follow the directions of this process correctly, you will have properly sealed them. But, it is still not the end of the world if one of them does not seal. That is just going to have to be the first one consumed. For properly sealed jars, they should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place like a pantry (where I store mine) or a kitchen cabinet. They will be good stored this way for up to 1 year. For unsealed jars or seal broken jars (like once you open one), they must be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within 3 weeks. Makes 6 1/2 pint quilted mason jars of jam to be served on anything from cream cheese with crackers to warm buttered biscuits. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Roasted Herb Potatoes

Sometimes there are days, especially throughout our long Chicago land winters, where I just want dinner going in the oven. There's something about getting it all together early in the afternoon, then letting it bake away til dinnertime.  Filling your home with a cozy warmness and deeply tantalizing aromas.  It is what truly makes our stark cold surroundings fade away from our sights and brings the soft comfortness of our homes more vivid and engulfing.  Dinner baking away on a winters afternoon is what really makes a house a home.

6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (quartered lengthwise)
2 cloves of garlic (roughly chopped)
1 tsp. of dried parsley
1/4 tsp. of dried crushed oregano
1/8 tsp. of dried rosemary (chopped)
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
2 T. of extra virgin olive oil

-Preheat your oven to 375*.  Spray the inside of a 1 qt. baking dish well with a cooking spray.  Combine all ingredients together in the greased baking dish, tossing well to coat.  Bake uncovered at 375* for 1 hour and 20-25 minutes, stopping to stir about every 30 minutes.  Once they have a nice golden brown coloring to them, they are done.  Serves 4-6.  Enjoy!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Baked Enchiladas with a Red Chili Sauce

What can I say about these enchiladas here, other than they may just be the most delicious ethnic food that I have not only ever created, but just maybe ever even had.  They are absolutely fantastic and nothing short of amazing.  The chicken inside was so perfectly moist and wrapped up so nice and neat by the garlic-infused corn tortillas, which if I do say so myself are purely phenomenal in themselves.  The cheese was ooey gooey awesome and pulling it all together was that deep rich and smokey red chili sauce, which by the way I had to keep myself from licking off of my plate!  And let's not fail to mention my favorite thing to do to dish's like this, is to smother them in my lime-infused sour cream.  It brightens everything up without changing the game.  And that game is always in it to win it for me.

1 whole roasted chicken (cool enough to handle-I used a traditional roasted chicken from my local markets deli)
1 clove of garlic (peeled and left whole)
1 cup of cooking oil (I used canola oil)
16 small corn tortillas
1/4 cup of cooking oil (again here I used canola oil)
1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
2 T. of chili powder
1 tsp. of onion powder
2 tsp. of ground cumin
1 tsp. of Cajun seasoning blend
1/2 tsp. of black pepper
pinch of smoked sea salt
1- 14oz. can of chicken stock
1- 8oz. can of tomato sauce
2-3 dashes of hot sauce (I used Louisiana)
3 cups of shredded cheddar and monetary cheese
juice from 1/2 of a fresh lime
sour cream for garnish
green onion (sliced) for garnish

-Preheat your oven to 375*.  Grease the sides and bottom of a 9x13" baking dish; set aside.  In a large stockpot (helps keep the grease splatter away from your stove top), heat the garlic clove and the 1 cup of oil up over medium heat.  Once the oil is nice and hot and you can smell the garlic, go ahead and remove the garlic clove and discard (you want to catch the flavor of it before you burn it).  Fry the tortilla shells for a few seconds on each side in the garlic infused oil (turning when they start to puff up with some wooden tongs- careful they rip easily), then place them on a paper towel- lined plate to cool.  Next you can go ahead and  remove the skin (discarding it) and shred the meat from your chicken.  Place the shredded meat into a bowl for ease when preparing the enchiladas. Now you can start your red chili sauce in a large sauce pan.  In that saucepan, bring your 1/4 cup of oil up to a medium heat, then stir in your flour.  Using a wooden spoon or a silicon coated wire whisk (as not to scratch your pan), stir constantly until combined.  Continue to stir and cook for a few minutes.  Then go ahead and add in your chili powder, onion powder, cumin, Cajun seasonings, black pepper and smoked sea salt.  Cook this down for a minute or two, then pour in your chicken stock, tomato sauce and hot sauce (to your liking) while stirring well.  Once this has reached a slow boil you are ready to go.  Pour a bit of the red chili sauce into the bottom of the greased baking dish (just enough to cover the bottom so the don't dry out or stick).  Assemble the enchiladas one at a time by placing a small amount of the shredded chicken and a pinch of cheese into the center, fold over the one side onto itself, fold over each edge to tuck in, fold over the last side, flip over so the seam side is facing down and place into your prepared baking dish.  You will be able to tightly line up 2 rows of 8 enchiladas.  Drizzle half of the remaining red chili sauce over them and spread it around, covering them completely, with the back of a spoon.  Blanket them off with the remaining shredded cheese, then drizzle on the last half of the red chili sauce over everything.  Bake at 375* for 25-30 minutes. Meanwhile, go ahead and mix together your lime juice and sour cream, cover and refrigerate until ready to use (it's just about the most amazing compliment ever).  Once it is done baking, remove it from the oven and allow it stand for about 5 minutes before plating.  Serve it with a dollop of your lime-infused sour cream and a healthy sprinkling of green onions on top alongside some re-fried beans and tortilla chips.  Serves 6-8.  Enjoy!