Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fresh Margarita Pizza

This is my version of the spectacular Margarita Pizza at Bucca de Beppos in Orland, Illinois.  Mine is great, but I will be the first to admit that theirs is amazing.  By keeping the ingredient's simple, you really get the intensity of the fresh basil and the creaminess of the fresh mozzerella.  Once you've tried this combination of toppings, anything more seems like overkill.  Sweet and simple is the key here.  Making this pizza at home tides me over until I can get back up there for theirs.  Not to mention that this is a "kid friendly" pizza to help make and to eat. 

1 pkg of crescent rolls
1 can (15 oz) pizza sauce
1 large ball of fresh mozzerella cheese (cubed)
bunch of fresh basil leaves (chopped)

-Preheat oven to 375*.  Unroll crescent roll dough (keeping it intact) onto a rectangular baking sheet (I prefer a stone, I think it helps things rise and crust up better).  Spread pizza sauce over dough keeping at least an inch or so away  from the edge.  Dot heavily with cheese cubes and bake for 10 -15 minutes (depending on pan and oven) or until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown. Remove from oven  and garnish with lots of fresh chopped basil.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pumpkin Bread

If it calls for pumpkin, then I'm making it.  I absolutely love baking pumpkin breads, muffins, cookies, cakes and pies.  And this particular quick bread is wonderful.  It had a beautiful rise, great color and perfect texture.  The aroma alone was making me dance around the oven in temptation.  With a spreading of cream cheese and a glass of milk, I was in heaven.

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs (let stand at room temp. for at least 30 min's)
1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup water
1/2 of a can (7.5 oz) canned pumpkin

-Preheat oven to 350*; grease and flour a loaf pan (I like a baking spray by Pilsbury for this, it has the flour in it).  In a large bowl, beat sugar and oil on medium speed.  Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined; set to the side.  In another large bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add flour and water to sugar mixture alternatively a little at a time while beating on low until just combined; beat in pumpkin.  Pour batter into pan and bake at 350* for 60 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely and wrap in saran wrap.  Best if sliced the next day, but mine usually doesn't make it until then!  Serves 10.  Enjoy! 

Perfectly Sweet Sweet Tea

If you have ever been over to my house for a visit or a meal, you most likely were offered some of my sweet tea.  This is a staple beverage in our home.  Not only is tea good for you, but it goes with everything.  And not to mention it costs considerably less than soda.  I grew up with a pitcher of sweet tea gracing my mothers' refridgerator, and now my children will too.  And with little embelishes like fresh mint, lemon or raspberries (or all together if I'm feeling a little crazy), you can make it different and special.

3 Lipton Tea bags                                                                         
3 1/2-4 tbs. sugar
bunch of fresh mint leaves (no stems), lemon slices or fresh raspberries (optional)

-Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil; remove from heat.  Place tea bags in pan to soak for 3-5 minutes (if you leave them in too long, your tea can have a bitter after-taste).  Remove tea bags and squeeze excess tea out of them before discarding.  Stir in sugar until dissolved.  Pour into a 2 quart pitcher (I prefer glass, you don't get a funky taste from it like plastic and it doesn't stain).  Fill up the pitcher the rest of the way with cold water while stirring.  Chill and serve over ice with a couple mint leaves.  Serves 6-8.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

This particular dish reminds me of family dinners.  I don't know why though, because I can't recall if it was ever even on the table at any of ours.  It's just the type of food that you would think would be there.  It's warm and heavy.  The perfect comfort food if you ask me.  Packed with a rich cream sauce and a crusty cheese topping, it's the perfect side dish to accompany any large or small dinner.  I may just have to start this one in on our next family gathering.

16 oz. uncooked elbow macaroni
1/2 cup real butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. salt
4 1/2 cups milk
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs

-Cook pasta as directed for al dente (this was it holds up after it is baked).  Preheat oven to 375*.  In a large pan, melt butter; stir in flour dry mustard and salt.  Slowly stir in milk about a cup at a time.  Continue to cook over medium heat until sauce thickens and begins to bubble (constantly stirring the whole time).  Remove from heat and stir in 2 cups of cheese.  Add your drained pasta into sauce and stir to combine.  Pour into a greased 13"x9" baking pan.  Sprinkle the remaining 2 cups of cheese evenly on top and then the bread crumbs over that.  Bake uncovered for 40 min's or until lightly browned around the edges.  Serves 12.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Slow-Cooker Pot Roast Pasta

This hearty dish went over great at our home.  I was a little leary to have a gravy style sauce over pasta like this, but the egg noodles can carry that load well.  My husband almost sounded shocked when he exclaimed how much he liked it.  I know that's true when he's up for seconds, and well let's just be honest, sometimes thirds.  That man can eat, and I am proud that I can feed him well.

1 lb beef stew meat
1 carton fresh sliced mushrooms
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 tbs McCormick Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning
1 pkg dry onion soup mix
1 pkg egg noodles (prepared as directed)

-Season all sides of meat with steak seasoning inside slow cooker.  Add in mushrooms,cream soup and dry soup mix.  Let it go Low and Slow for 8-10 hours.  Serve over prepared pasta.  Serves 6.  Enjoy!

Peanut-Crusted Stuffed French Toast

This concoction has been a long time coming let me tell you.  It is based on one of my all time favorite meals at a small restaurant in New Lenox, Illinois called Country Charm.  They have a wonderful cream cheese filled french toast with a warm blueberry sauce.  My Mom and I have been going there for it since I was in grade school.  Now that I live even farther away, I rarely ever get a chance to make it out there.  Well, it doesn't help that they close mid-day.  So, that led to many years of trying to create my own take on cream cheese filled french toast.  This one is wonderfully sweet and heavenly aromatic.  It's not just a treat to your pallet, it's a treat to almost all of your senses.  We eat with our eyes, our taste and our sense of smell.

3 cups crushed peanuts
8 slices of white bread (I used a buttermilk bread)
4 eggs (beaten)
1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
1 brick (8 oz) softened cream cheese

-Spread the cream cheese evenly (staying about 1/4" in from edges, so it doesn't leak out while cooking) on one side of each slice of bread.  Assemble as sandwiches with cream cheese side facing inward towards each other.  Mix beaten eggs and vanilla in a large shallow bowl; dip sandwiches in flipping and  coating both sides.  Next, place crushed peants on a large plate; coat both sides of egg-dipped sandwiches evenly with nuts.  Transfer sandwiches onto a medium-heated griddle and cook about 3-4 minutes on each side (watch carefully as to not burn nuts).  Serve with syrup and some thickly sliced bacon.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Grilled Orange Brat's

I can hand over the credit for this melody of flavors to my husband, Rich.  He seen something along these lines on a hunting show.  When he first suggested to boil the brats in orange soda, my first response was not too nice.  It sounded absurd to me.  But then I remembered all the great things that I have made with Coca-Cola and beer.  So, I figured why not.  But, I decided to add in the fresh oranges for the extra flavor and tartness and the carmelized onions to balance it out.  And, tah-dah they were scrumptious!  There was just the right amount of everything.  And the best part was the crust that formed on the brat's as they finished grilling.  The orange soda added that touch.
1 pkg (5 sausage's) Johnsonville Bratwurst
1 liter orange flavored soda
3 oranges (halved)
1 medium sweet onion (thinly sliced)
extra virgin olive oil

-Boil sausage and orange halves in the soda for 10 min's (yeah I said soda!).  Meanwhile, sautee onion in a little extra virgin olive oil on medium heat until transparent.  Remove sausage (reserve orange halves for garnish) from pan and finish off on a pre-heated grill.  Grill on medium-high heat for about 5-10 min's more, turning frequently, or until evenly browned.  Place on buns with sauteed onions on top.  Serves 5.  Enjoy!

Creamy Potato Soup

This is probably one of my best loved hand me downs.  This recipe was given to me by a wonderful doctor, friend and co-worker.  I have played around with it over time, and always go back to the original chicken scratched one from a piece of office paper.  I transfer all my recipes to index cards for my box, except those from family and dear friends.  For some reason it just doesn't feel right to toss them out. My belly and those of others will be forever grateful to him.  Thank you Dr. Macnab.

5 large red pototoes (peeled/ diced)
1 medium yellow Vidalia sweet onion (diced)
3 stalks celery (sliced)
1 8 oz. brick of cream cheese
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 cups milk
2 cups water
2 tbs. real butter
Cooked crumbled bacon and shredded cheddar cheese for garnish

-In a large stockpot, over medium heat, cook the potatoes, onions and celery in 2 cups of water; covered until done (about 20 minutes-you want them to be soft, but not falling apart). Add in cream cheese and butter; stir until melted.  Then, in a large bowl, mix together milk, soups and garlic.  Slowly pour this into your stockpot.  Cover and simmer for at least 15 min's.  Top with bacon and cheese.  Serves 4-6.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cake

This one takes the cake!  This is one of the few occassions where the picture does it justice alright.  Just to look at this, and I am drooling.  I can almost taste the moistness of the cake along with the fluffiness of the cool whip and the sweet tartness of the cherry sauce.  This is my first concoction to my recollection. I made this with on hand ingredients in the fifth grade. We can thank my Dad for keeping the options low due to empty cupboards! But, there's not a thing that I would add to change this even now.  This simple twist on chocolate cake is just amazing.  Sometimes simple is better.  ‎

1 boxed chocolate cake (prepare as directed)
1 tub of Cool Whip
1 large can of cherry pie filling

-Bake cake as directed in a 9x13 pan. Once completely cooled, top with cool whip. Sloppily spoon pie filling over the top. Cover and refridge...rate. Serves many. Enjoy!

Homemade Carrot Cake

It never even occurred to me that I had never had nor made a carrot cake before.  I guess my interpretation of it would have to be a banana cake, which mind you I make as a staple.  Well, to me anything with cream cheese is right up my alley.  So, I began to play around with the idea and came up with this.  The carrot is almost like a hint of sweetness to an other wise spice cake.  I loved the warmth of the cake and the cool creaminess of the frosting.  What a wonderful cake this was.

4 beaten eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 cups FINELY SHREDDED carrots (a must or else they sink to bottom)
3/4 cups cooking oil
1 recipe cream cheese frosting

-Let eggs stand at room temperature x 30 min's. Meanwhile, grease and flour a 9x13" cake pan. In a large bowl mix flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and baking soda. In a medium bowl mix eggs, carrots, and oil. Add egg mixture to flour mixture; stir until combined. Pour batter into cake pan. Bake @ 350* x 30-35 min's. Cool completely and then frost. Serves 16. Enjoy!
4 oz (1/2 brick) cream cheese (softened)
1/4 cup of real unsalted butter (softened)
1 tsp real vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
-Beat first 3 ingred's until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time. That's it, now just frost your cake :)

Slow-Cooker Shrimp and Chicken Creole

I have not tried my hand at cajun cuisine until just recently.  And to be blunt,  I'm hooked.  The way the flavors meld and the subtleness of the heat plays in is wonderful.  Well, it just so happened to be a day when my Grandma was going to be joining us for dinner that I decided to break out my slow cooker and play around.  I was a little hesitant to make it that night, in fear that it may upset her stomach.  I was under the impression that if it was cajun it was hot and spicy, but after making this dish, I was impressed.  It was not hot and spicy at all.  Instead, it had a depth of flavor before finishing with a nice medium warmth.  Served over my old faithful, jasmine rice, this was the perfect cajun dish.  Even my children loved this one.  And not to toot my own horn and all, but my husband said that this was my best meal ever.  And that says a lot.

‎1 lb skinless chicken thighs
1 red bell pepper (diced)
1 large onion (diced)
2 ribs of celery (diced)
1 can (15 oz) stewed tomatoes , undrained
1 clove of garlic (minced)
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 lb shelled/ deveined/ cleaned shrimp
1 tbs lemon juice
few dashes of Louisiana Hot Sauce
prepared white rice (I use Jasmine Rice)

-Place chicken thighs in slow-cooker. Add bell pepper, onion, celery, tomatoes with juice, garlic, sugar, paprika, Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper. Cover; cook on LOW for 8-10 hours. In last hour of cooking, add shrimp, lemon juice and hot sauce. Serve over warm rice. Serves 6. Enjoy!See More

BBQ Sweet-n-Sour Chicken

I prepared this dish for the first time up at my wonderful Aunt Debys' lake house in Michigan.  I thought that the ingredients were fitting for her tiki style atmosphere and all.  And boy was it ever a hit.  Their lake friends were all asking me if this was sweet and sour chicken, and smiling to myself I said no it's just bbq sauce.  But let me tell you, had I not been the one to make it, I too would of been questioning it.  The juices from the pineapple and bell pepper infuse the bbq sauce with their bittersweet flavors completely altering the bbq sauce.  I served it over jasmine rice, and viola` we had a very simple but wonderful interpretation of sweet and sour chicken with rice.

3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 green bell pepper (sliced)
1 fresh pineapple (fresh is better than canned here) (sliced)
bbq sauce (I prefer Sweet Baby Ray's)
salt/ pepper
prepared white rice (I always use Jasmine Rice)

-Preheat gas grill.  Wash and dry chicken breasts; salt/ pepper both sides.  Using large square portions of aluminium foil to create "pouches", place chicken breast in center.  Cover with about a 1/4 cup of bbq sauce and top off with two pepper rings and two pineapple rings.  Fold foil inward, gathering at the top tightly.  Place pouches on the top rack of a medium-high heated grill.  Grill for 15 min's, or until chicken is cooked (165*).  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Sour Cream Banana Bread

All I can say for this wonderful quick bread is, oh my goodness!  Now mind you that I make banana bread like it's going out of style.  I have endless amounts of over ripened bananas every week.  I tend to slightly over buy.  But, I was raised never to waste and always eat what's open before opening up something new.  So, therefore I bake a lot of banana bread.  I have tried many different recipes for it over the years, but never finding one that was super moist.  Mine was always slightly over baked on the inside to insure that the center was done.  But, when my husband came home with a recipe for one made with sour cream I couldn't help myself.  I realized that I love to use it in my pound cake, so I was immediately thinking what I could do to enhance it, twist it around and make it mine.  I excluded the nuts and raisins it called for, threw in the semi-sweet chocolate chips and tipped in a little vanilla extract.  And it is phenomenal.  I will never again hunt for a new recipe to try.  This is the one.

1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of real un-salted butter
2 eggs (beaten)
1 cup (3-4) mashed very ripe bananas
1/2 teaspoon real vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of sour cream
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

-Preheat oven to 350*.  Spray a loaf pan (I use stone-ware, it makes a higher rising rustic loaf) with a floured baking spray.
-In a medium bowl, beat together sugar, butter, and eggs.  Add in mashed bananas and vanilla. 
-In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt.  Alternate adding in the flour mixture and the sour cream to the batter.  Add in the chocolate chips. 
-Pour combined batter into pan.  Bake for 60-65 min's, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Serves 10.  Enjoy!