Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chicken Marsala

I'm going to be honest.  I was extremely intimidated by this the first time I tried it.  It was the first time I ever cooked with wine, and I was cooking for my family so I wasn't even sure if they'd like it.  Like it?  They LOVED it.  My mom said that this is my "signature dish" and that I should serve it for company (because I have dinner guests oh-so-often)!  Forget company...make this for yourself.  It's a lot easier than you think, and after you cook it a few times, you'll be able to get it done in under 30 minutes.  What now, Rachael Ray?

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (I usually split these and then pound them thin)

1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 cup Marsala wine

Combine the flour, salt, pepper and oregano.  Heat the oil and butter in a skillet until it bubbles.  Coat the chicken in the flour mixture, then shake off the excess.  Cook in the skillet for about two minutes, until it is lightly browned on one side.  Turn the chicken over, and add the mushrooms.  Cook another 2 minutes until the other side of the chicken is lightly browned.  Stir the mushrooms to cook evenly.  Add the wine and then cover the skillet, turn the heat down and simmer this for about 10 minutes.

Side notes:  the butter and the olive oil create a pretty big amount of sauce.  It's okay to use less of these two things, but make sure you use BOTH butter and olive oil because it tastes so much better!  Also, if you have to simmer this for longer than 10 minutes, it won't hurt anything.  It's delicious.  I usually serve this with mashed potatoes.  YUM!!  My stomach just growled...

Oriental Coleslaw

Before we start, go get a big bowl. No, bigger. Seriously, the biggest bowl you have. The first time I made this, I think I had to transfer it twice. There is a massive amount of this stuff when you’re mixing, but after it sits a while and comes together, it reduces by about half. Typing this recipe makes me want to go whip up a batch. I haven’t had it in a while and now I’m getting the craving for it. I’m not a fan of mayonnaise based slaw, and really don’t think cold raw cabbage sounds delicious at all. However, this recipe has an explosion of flavors and really goes well with a variety of main dishes.

1 pound pre-packaged coleslaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots)

1 package chicken flavored ramen noodles

1 cup slivered toasted almonds (350 degrees on tin foil for a few minutes)

3 green onion, chopped (optional – I don’t use them)

½ cup sugar

½ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

pepper to taste

Mix the dressing and ramen seasoning. Pour over slaw and mix well. Refrigerate over night. Immediately before serving, top with crushed ramen noodles (not cooked – crunchy right out of the package). Observation: I have found that I really don’t need all of the dressing, but I prefer to use it and right before I serve it, I add another ¼ - ½ bag of slaw so that there is some that's saturated and some that's crisp. Up to you!

Buffalo Chicken Dip

A classic. Also, this may be the recipe from the hot sauce bottle, I don’t know and I’m not going to look it up. I’ve been given a few different recipes for this, and this is the best and probably the easiest. Once people know this stuff’s in the room – look out. It’s like a stampede.

2 large cans chicken breast, shredded

1 small bottle Hidden Valley ranch dressing

1 pound bag shredded cheddar cheese

1 package cream cheese

Frank’s Red Hot to taste ( I think I usually use about a 1/4 cup)

Melt all the ingredients together in a pan, leaving out a handful of cheddar. Put mixture into the crockpot, sprinkle the cheese on top, and let simmer for at least 2 hours before serving. It’s ready when it’s all heated together in the pan, but do yourself a favor and don’t leave out the crockpot step. It makes it so much better and all the flavors come together in a beautiful way. I like serving this with Tostidos Scoops.

Artichoke Dip

I think it’s pretty clear – I like dip. A lot. This dip is always a big hit at parties. Kids don’t seem to like it, but I can remember having it at every one of my birthday parties growing up because all the adults would flock around the bowl. It was gone within minutes. Now that I have a more advanced palate (just because I enjoy pre-packaged junk doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the good stuff, too) I couldn’t agree more. This stuff is yummy and it’s simple to make.

2 cans chopped artichokes

2 cups parmesan cheese

1 cup mayonnaise

Bake in a pie plate for ½ hour at 425 degrees. Serve hot with Triscuits.

Not Your Mom’s Meatloaf

Ew. Meatloaf. Could you combine two words that would sound less appetizing? I think not. I couldn’t stand meatloaf growing up with all the onions and peppers and well…meat.  It always seemed dry (but greasy…how’d that happen?) and if there wasn’t ketchup near by, I wasn’t going to touch it with a 39 ½ foot pole. Not this stuff though. This is the diva of meatloaf. This is tender and savory. This is meatloaf fit for a queen.

2 pounds ground pork and beef mix

1 can tomato soup

1 sleeve Ritz crackers

1 egg

1 package onion soup mix

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 ½ hours.

Corn Casserole

1 egg, beaten

1 cup sour cream

1 stick melted margarine

1 can corn (drain ½ of the water off)

1 can cream style corn

1 box (8 ½ oz) Jiffy corn muffin mix

Bake in greased 8x12” dish at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

It’s weird how I want this with totally different foods. I think it goes great with summer cookout food as well as with Mexican. This stuff is delicious and gives a nice sweetness that balances out savory main dishes.

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Every single restaurant now has some form of spinach and artichoke dip. It’s apparently very popular. I order it all the time, but guess what? My aunt made up this recipe and it is waaay better than anything I’ve ever had in a restaurant. Use the best ingredients you can find and I guarantee that you’ll be suckered into making this for every party you go to from now on.

1 pound provolone

1 pound mozzarella

½ pound pecorino romano

2 boxes chopped frozen spinach, squeezed dry

2 jars alfredo sauce

2 cans quartered artichokes, chopped small

2 cloves garlic, chopped finely

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix and scoop into 2 pie plates (plus some left over that I fill little ramekins with and freeze for a dip fix later on). Bake at 375 degrees for 23-30 minutes or until lightly golden and bubbly. You can serve with any kind of bread or cracker, but I like Tostidos.

Spinach Balls

2 boxes frozen spinach, chopped and drained

2 cups stuffing mix

6 eggs, beaten

¾  cup melted margarine

¾ tablespoon garlic powder

2 large onions chopped finely

½ to ¾ cup grated parmesan

½ cup chopped parsley

1 teaspoon pepper

Mix well and form into bite-sized balls. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

These are SO good! Extremely addictive and just all around tasty. They are great to throw in the freezer when you first make them and then pull out when you need a quick appetizer. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love these.

No Frills Fruit Dip

1 small jar marshmallow fluff
1 – 8 oz cream cheese
dash of almond extract
maraschino cherry juice for color

Usually when you serve a fruit tray at a party, it’s to give people a healthier option. Most people take some fruit and a little bit of dip. I’m not most people. This is so good, I just use the piece of fruit as a utensil to access the dip. Meet the apple spoon. Is it wrong to lick off the apple and go back for more? Yes. I do it anyway. Don’t judge me.

Grandma’s Olive Spread

Let me start off by saying that this is an acquired taste. I think you either love this or hate it. I love it - maybe because no one else really liked it, and grandma would make it just for me. I don’t know, but I crave it. For me, this is one of the ultimate comfort foods. If you like green olives, give it a shot. It's fantastic with the butterfly shaped butter crackers.

8 oz package of cream cheese

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup chopped green manzanilla olives

Little bit of mayonnaise

2 tablespoons of the olive juice

These are the exact directions from grandma – I could change them, but it’s not as funny:

Stir well. This should be mushy, but it will thicken. Let the cream cheese get soft (room temperature). You don’t really need the mayo.

Ranch Crackers

12 oz plain oyster crackers
1 packet Hidden Valley Buttermilk Ranch dry mix
¼ teaspoon lemon pepper
½ teaspoon dill weed
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ cup salad oil

Combine on a baking tray and place in 200 degree oven for 20 minutes. I know this isn’t the most inventive recipe, but it’s tasty and makes me want to have a picnic. These are so easy and a great little snack on the go.

Eggnog Pie

1 package instant cheesecake pudding mix

2 cups dairy eggnog

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 tub of cool whip

graham cracker pie crust

This just tastes like Christmas. I love the flavors of eggnog, but can’t really get past the consistency to drink more than a few sips. This pie is the answer. In case you didn’t read the ingredients – it’s a pudding pie. I love pudding. Don’t even get me started on the genius who thought of filling donuts with pudding (hello, Bavarian Cream). I digress. If you love all those warm inviting flavors of nutmeg and vanilla, try this pie. Have yourself a little slice of happy.

Mix the instant pudding and eggnog together, then stir in the cinnamon and nutmeg. When all the lumps are out, fold in the whip cream. If you don't want to put this into a pie crust (it needs to sit overnight to firm up enough to cut), serve it with graham crackers or nilla wafers and call it eggnog dip - I did and everyone loved it!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Easy Crab Dip

My mom taught me how to make this when I was in middle school, and I've made it for every party I've ever been invited to since then.  It's foolproof, it's pretty, and it tastes delicious.  It looks and tastes a lot fancier than it actually is - it impresses everyone.  Here are the ingredients:

1 8 oz package of cream cheese

6 oz cocktail sauce (about half of a jar, or less depending on taste)

6 oz can lump crab meat (you can find this in the same section as the tuna)

1 thinly sliced green onion

Spread the cream cheese evenly over a plate (I usually use something decorative so it looks prettier).  Using the back of a spoon, spread the cocktail sauce over top of the cream cheese.  You should now have 2 layers.  Drain and fluff the crab meat, then sprinkle generously over the top of the cocktail sauce.  Half of the can is more than enough - you can save the rest in the fridge.  Sprinkle the green onion over top of the crab meat.  You're done!  I usually serve this with crackers (Club original work really well, or any other kind of buttery and delicious cracker).

Creamy Spinach – a healthy switch-a-roo

This one is a spin off on a “hungry-girl” classic. When I’m on a diet kick, I tend to get creative. I love Boston Market creamed spinach, but let’s face it – too much of that stuff and my butt will be the size of Utah. I guarantee that when you try this, there’s no way you’ll be able to tell it’s low cal/low fat and actually good for you. So get in all that delicious creamy, cheesy, hidden Vitamin K.  Plus, it’s really easy - you only use one bowl, and you make it in the microwave.

1 package of frozen spinach

2 wedges of Laughing Cow light (garlic & herb)

1 generous sprinkle of garlic salt

1 tablespoon fat free sour cream

1 tablespoon (a little less) grated parmesan

Thaw out the spinach in the microwave, and drain well (get in there and squish out all of that extra spinach juice) Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Put back into the microwave until the sauce is melted and it’s nice and creamy.

Swedish-y Meatballs

1 ½ cups chili sauce (I use Heinz)

1 cup grape jelly

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 pound lean ground beef

1 egg, beaten lightly

3 tablespoons finely ground breadcrumbs (I like plain better than seasoned for this)

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Stir together chili sauce, jelly and mustard then put in a crock pot set on high. Mix together remaining ingredients and form about 30 little meatballs. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake meatballs for about 20 minutes, then drain. Add meatballs to the crockpot, and gently stir to cover in the sauce. Turn down the temperature to low and let them simmer in there for at least 5 hours. They will get nice and tender and soak up all those flavors and saucy goodness.

Now let me say this to all you skeptics…these sound gross. The first time I heard about this recipe, it sounded disgusting and I never had intentions on making them…until someone brought them to work and I tried one. And then another one. And then another one just to be sure. These little suckers are addicting! Get some fancy toothpicks with the frillies on the ends and have yourself a party. They are particularly great for football game snacks. I don’t give a crap about football, but I’m very passionate about snacks.

Homemade Fresh Mozzarella

I can’t begin to tell you the satisfaction you will receive from making your own cheese. I love cheese. If something is cheesy, I want it. Gooey, cheesy deliciousness. I can’t believe it’s possible to make your own mozzarella at home (and in less than an hour and with a microwave!) I’ll be honest, the first time is not all that easy, but practice really does make perfect on this one. I make this often now as a beautiful caprese salad with gorgeous tomatoes and basil from my garden. And I’ll tell you what – I’ve never bought mozzarella as delicious as this before.

The milk: this is the holy grail of cheese making and you have to get it right. I wasted lots of milk and money by using the wrong kind. It’s essential that you have a local, not ultra-pasteurized milk. Milk with the least amount of processing and shipping will work best. I tried a local brand first, Turner Dairy, only 5 miles away, only to end in failure – it was ultra-pasteurized, but labeled “pasteurized” Mis-labeling is a big problem and unfortunately, it’s pretty much trial and error. In Pittsburgh, I’ve found the perfect milk. It’s reasonably local (only from Ohio) and they don’t over-process the milk with high temperatures. I get Snowville Creamery whole milk (low fat will produce a drier, less flavorful cheese and not as much of it), and I buy it at Whole Foods in the East End. The end result is heavenly.

Special ingredients: You are going to need rennet (I use liquid animal rennet) and citric acid. While I think you can find this in some specialty grocery stores, I just did it the easy way and ordered from This also ensures you are getting exactly the right stuff with the perfect potency. It’s reasonably priced and shipping is incredibly fast.

Thermometer: Make life easy on yourself and buy a nice digital thermometer that you can hook on the side of the pot. It prevents operator error by being precise. I hate to admit this, because I’m not a dumb-dumb. I’m pretty smart, but I screwed up reading the temperature on the first 3 batches I tried to make. Turns out Celsius and Fahrenheit are REALLY different and I was reading the wrong side of the traditional thermometer I had. The result was a metallic tasting lump of weird tiny curds. Delish.

Be prepared: I think the cheese knows when you’re frustrated, because after I did this a few times, everything just seemed to work. If you put lots of love into the process, you will make a delicious product. Get out everything you need before you start and mix everything together so it’s ready to go. Clean up your area – no dirty dishes, rags, or sponges around, this affects the curd formation. Use antibacterial cleaner to wipe down all the surfaces you will be near. Like I said, this may take a few times before it flows smoothly.

For a complete step-by-step with photos, go here. Mine looked nothing like these photos the first 5 or so times I tried to make it. Once I got the milk right, though…oh man. My curds were beautiful and looked just like Ricki’s. She really is the Cheese Queen. Many questions you have will be answered somewhere on this site:

Chocolate Ganache Frosting

Any chocolate you like

Heavy cream

Only two little ingredients and believe me…this one’s a show stopper. Once you make this, you will never want to make another frosting again. It’s THAT good. The word ganache used to scare me. I was always so tempted to try my hand at it, but it sounds complicated and finicky to make. Everyone will think you slaved in the kitchen making this fancy schmancy dessert. I like to chill it and pipe the top of cupcakes with it. It is so irresistibly good and it melts in your mouth. This is “hide in the closet with a spoon” kind of good. It reminds me of the center of a Lindor Truffle.

Use about equal amounts of chocolate to heavy cream. I use a pint of heavy whipping cream and almost a bag of chocolate chips (not an exact science). It doesn’t matter what kind of chocolate - dark, milk, or white, just make sure you chop it up nice and small. Heat the heavy cream in a small pot just to the boiling point. Pour over the bowl of chocolate and wait a few minutes. When it’s nice and melty, start to stir. When it comes together, it will be a decadent liquid ganache that you can pour over a cake for a beautiful sheen. It also makes for a luscious fruit dip. At this point, I like to take it a step further. Put it in the fridge for at least an hour, until it's really chilled, then use an electric hand mixer and start whipping. It takes a while to get to the consistency of frosting, but don’t lose faith. It will happen eventually, and when it does…it’s pure magic.

Jazzed-Up Salsa – no cooking skills required

1 jar salsa (I like Chi-Chi’s medium spiciness)

1 packet dry Hidden Valley ranch mix

1 small container of sour cream

Mix together and chill before serving. Grab a bag of Tostidos, pop in your favorite RomCom, and curl up on the couch or bring it to a party and impress your friends. Ok - I know. This is ridiculously easy and doesn’t sound that great. But I promise you that it’s delicious and (bonus!) it will look like you put in more work than you actually did. I love it when that happens…

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

more to come…

we're going to be blogging about food, fun, and travel - stay tuned for more!