Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fright Night Feast

Happy Halloween everyone! It also happens to be Chuck's 30th birthday and there is nothing more that he likes doing on his birthday than staying at home to answer the door for trick-or-treaters :) So we will celebrate with our frequent dinner companions, Krista and Evan, and I will make my traditional Halloween meal of "Bats and Cobwebs". I bulked up the menu a little this year to make it more of a festive atmosphere (he IS 30 after all) while we wait for the ghosts and goblins to ring the doorbell!

Happy Birthday, Buddy!

Fright Night Feast



  • Bats and Cobwebs
  • Herbed Garlic Bread
  • Arugula Salad with sundried and cherry tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and Creamy Balsamic Vinaigrette (brought by Krista)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cheddar-Topped Shepherd's Pie

Hmmm, after making and photographing this, I came to two realizations: one, that I apparently like the combination of beef, potatoes, and veggies and two, that comfort food is delicious but is not pretty in pictures! For example:

While browsing through Sarah's blog one day, I saw she had posted a recipe from a recent issue of Everyday Food, which I also subscribe to. She really liked this recipe so I decided to try it! I read some of the reviews on the website and made several changes to the original recipe; most notably browning and draining the meat first, and changing some of the vegetables around.
This is a heavy dish, literally. When I was putting it into the oven it felt like it weighed a ton! But it was filling, warm, and tasted great!

Cheddar-Topped Shepherd's Pie
adapted from Everyday Food
Makes 4 large servings

1 1/2 pounds white baking potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
coarse salt and ground pepper
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/3 pounds ground beef
6-8 ounces baby carrots, sliced
1/2 large onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Place potatoes in a large saucepan, and cover by 1 inch with salted water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and cook until no longer pink, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove beef with slotted spoon to separate bowl and drain saute pan.

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in same saute pan and add carrots, onion, and thyme. Cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add beef back into saute pan. Add 3/4 cup water, corn , and peas. Bring to a boil and simmer 1 minute. Season generously with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Drain potatoes, return to saucepan. Cook over medium, stirring, until liquid had evaporated and a thin film covers bottom of pan, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat; add milk and 1/2 cup cheese. Mash until smooth and season with salt and pepper.

Pour beef filling into greased 2 1/2 quart baking dish. Drop spoonfuls of potatoes over beef; spread to edges with spatula. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

Bake until topping is browned and filling is bubbling, about 20 minutes. (Topping and filling can be made ahead and stored separately.)

Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Tomato Ravioli Soup

This is a great soup to make if you have 15 minutes to spare and want something warm and comforting. I have to apologize for the picture though, I was making this for lunches in the middle of making dinner and didn't have time to snap anything of merit.

I used mini raviolis because I had them leftover but the recipe calls for tortellini. And make sure you whisk the cream cheese and broth fully together otherwise you end up with the little cream cheese dots like I did!

Tomato Ravioli (or Tortellini) Soup
from Jo's Kitchen
Makes about 4 servings

2 14.5 ounce cans chicken broth
8 oz. frozen mini ravioli, tortellini, or other bite-sized filled pasta
4 ounces cream cheese (preferably chive)
1 can condensed tomato soup

Bring chicken broth to a boil in medium saucepan; add pasta and cook 5 minutes. Whisk together cream cheese and 1/3 cup hot broth in separate bowl; add back into saucepan. Add tomato soup and heat through.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

This dessert is not for the faint of heart. Seriously, make sure you have a lot of milk on hand for this one. With two sticks of butter AND over a whole jar of peanut butter in a 9 x 13 pan; do not eat this if you are on a diet. However, it's worth cheating on your diet because they are GOOD! You bite into one and it's like the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich you have ever had times ten.

I like to leave big mounds of the dough as the topping, but if you want to spread it out for a more uniform look, best of luck to you! It's a sticky dough, and I like the look of the jelly layer peeking out in between the peanut butter. I would suggest strawberry or raspberry jelly with this but feel free to mix it up!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
from Ina Garten
Makes 24 bars

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups (18 ounces) creamy peanut butter (recommended: Skippy)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (18 ounces) raspberry jam or other jam
2/3 cups salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch cake pan. Optional: Line it with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light yellow, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, eggs, and peanut butter and mix until all ingredients are combined.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture. Mix just until combined.

Spread 2/3 of the dough into the prepared cake pan and spread over the bottom with a knife or offset spatula. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the jam. Don't worry if all the jam isn't covered; it will spread in the oven.

Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and cut into squares.

Hearty Beef Stew

This is a perfect stew for an brisk autumn night. Rich broth surrounding beef, potatoes, peas, and carrots is only improved upon by what bread you serve with it. Make sure it's something that can sop up every last morsel!

Make sure you leave yourself enough time to make this. Not once, but TWICE have I not given myself enough time for that last hour in the oven after the potatoes and carrots are added. Thank goodness it can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. If you don't have enough time to make it before dinner, just make it one night and serve it the next!

Hearty Beef Stew
from America's Test Kitchen via Good Things Catered
Makes 4-6 servings

2 1/2 to 3 lbs. beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 in. cubes
salt and ground pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped coarse (about 2 cups)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 c. full-bodied dry red wine
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoons dried thyme
4 medium red potatoes, cut into 1-in. cubes
4 large carrots (about 1 lb.) or 16 ounce bag of baby carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4 in. thick
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup minced parsley

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Dry beef throughly and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add half the meat so that pieces are not touching and cook not moving until brown (about 2-3 minutes). Use tongs and rotate pieces until all sides are browned (about 5 additional minutes). Trasfer beef to medium bowl and add another 1 tablespoon oil to pan, repeating previous steps with other half of beef.

Reduce heat to medium and add additional 1 tablespoon oil to now empty pan and swirl to coat bottom. Add onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, scraping bottom of pan for brown bits until softened (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and continue to cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the flour and cook until lightly colored (1-2 minutes).

Add wine, scraping the bottom and stiring until thick and flour is dissolved. Gradually add the chicken stock, stirring constantly scraping up the remaining browned bits on bottom of pan. Add bay leaves and thyme and return to simmer. Add beef, return to simmer, and place the pot in the oven.

Cook for 1 hour. Add potatoes and carrots cover and return to the oven to cook for additional hour. Remove the pot from oven (here you can cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days).

Add the peas, cover and allow to stand for 5 min. Stir in the parsley, discard bay leaves, adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Easy Cheesy Beer Bread

When I was trying to think of an quick side dish to my beef stew that didn't involve popping open a can of crescent rolls, Katie suggested her beer bread. She said it would come together in under 10 minutes and she was right! There is nothing easier than mixing these few ingredients and popping it in the oven for about an hour.

If you don't have whole wheat flour, just use another cup of all-purpose and please, please, do NOT use light beer. ::shudder:: This is a very dense bread, so perfect for sopping up stews or soups, or eat it by itself - and don't forget the butter!

Easy Cheesy Beer Bread
Makes one loaf
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
12 ounce bottle of lager or stout
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour loaf pan.
In large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and garlic powder. Whisk to combine well.
Add cheese and whisk to combine. Slowly add beer to dry ingredients and stir lightly until combined. Knead dough lightly until it just comes together.
Place into prepared loaf pan and pour melted butter over top. Place in oven to bake for 55-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of loaf comes out clean.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Garlicky Guacamole

If you like avocados, you probably have your own recipe for guacamole already, but I wanted to share mine with you. The onion and garlic taste is very strong in this, which we like, but you can reduce the amounts of either or both if you are hanging out with people you don't know very well. :)

I like the mash the avocados with a fork instead of processing or pureeing them - I think it adds to the authenticity and it lets me control the consistency. Make sure to save the pits and place them in the finished product - I have good word that they keep the avocados from browning too fast. Use all the freshest ingredients too!

Garlicky Guacamole
from Colleen's Kitchen
Makes about 2 cups

2 very ripe medium Hass avocados, halved, pitted and removed from skin, cut into large chunks
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
few dashes of Tabasco sauce
pinch of Kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 medium tomato, chopped

Place all ingredients except tomato in medium bowl; mash with fork until desired consistency. Gently stir in tomato and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Casual Friday Night Supper

To me, nothing is better on a Friday night when the cool weather is setting in than to settle in with some warm food, good beer, and even better friends. The menu below is a casual, easy meal with some dishes you can prep in advance and others that you can assemble after you get home from work. So settle in and enjoy - happy weekend!

Casual Friday Night Supper

  • Tortilla chips served with Garlicky Guacamole and garden salsa
  • Warm Caramelized Onion Dip with baguette slices (made by the fabulous Kate)



  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sauteed Corn and Salsa

I love this side dish when I make things like enchiladas or quesadillas. You already have your carbs in the meal with the tortillas so this is a nice option to serve alongside. It would probably be pretty good as a dip as well. And you can add other things like black beans or scallions or fresh tomatoes if you have them!

Make sure your corn is nice and brown before removing it from the heat - you want that roasted flavor!

Sauteed Corn and Salsa
adapted from Everyday Food
Makes 2 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
10 ounce package frozen corn, about 2 cups
1/3 cup jarred salsa or 1/2 cup fresh salsa
kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives and/or cilantro

Heat olive oil in medium saute pan over high heat. Add corn and garlic, cook until corn begins to brown, stirring occasionally, 5-10 minutes.

Remove from heat and add salsa and salt and pepper to taste. Top with chives or cilantro.

Firecracker Enchiladas

This is one of my favorite enchilada recipes. It actually takes the spot right now as my favorite "red sauce" enchilada, and I have another favorite "green sauce" enchilada as well!

The original recipe is from Rachael Ray but I have made a significant amount of changes over the several times I've made them. When I make them for just Chuck and me, I will assemble all of them, then place half in the baking dish to be broiled; and freeze the other half with reheating instructions. That makes it very easy to just take a whole meal out of the freezer on a busy night, and broiling them makes them taste freshly made!
I served this with Sauteed Corn and Salsa and some roasted zucchini.

Firecracker Enchiladas
adapted from Rachael Ray
Makes about 4 servings

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons flour
One 29-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups shredded chicken (about 1 pound chicken or 2 medium-sized breasts)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
4 ounce can diced green chiles, drained
Six 10-inch flour tortillas
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups water and the tomato sauce, chili powder, cumin and salt; bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes; set aside.
Preheat the broiler. Position top rack about 12 inches from the heat source. In a large bowl, mix the chicken, two-thirds of the cheese and the chiles.
Spread 1 cup of the enchilada sauce in a large casserole dish. Dip 1 tortilla in the remaining sauce to coat both sides and transfer to a plate. Fill with generous 1/2 cup of chicken mixture, roll up and transfer to the casserole dish, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and filling.
Top with the remaining sauce and cheese; broil until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn off the broiler and leave the enchiladas in the oven until heated through, about 5 minutes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies

I titled these Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies but in reality they are just my favorite oatmeal raisin cookies from growing up, and I wanted to use up the dried cranberries I had in my refrigerator! Plus, it makes them sound much more fall and festive, don't you think?

This recipe is straight from the lid of the Quaker Oats canister - you can't get much more authentic than that!

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies
from Quaker Oatmeal
Makes about 4 dozen

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups Quaker® Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup raisins (or any other small or chopped dried fruit)

Heat oven to 350°F.

In large bowl, beat margarine and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and raisins; mix well.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Wow, this chicken was GOOD. I have been on a quest to find a delicious and easy sesame and/or sweet and sour chicken recipe for awhile now. The recipes I have tried have been sort of mediocre - either a lot of work for not a lot of flavor, or not the flavor I was looking for in the first place.

But THIS was worth it. I saw this post on Taste and Tell and the fact that it was baked for an hour intrigued me right away. The recipes I have used for similar dishes have all stopped with the saute portion and I knew that the baking would make it crisper and give it a deeper flavor.

Needless to say, this recipe for sweet and sour chicken is going in my recipe file as my "staple". I halved everything (as usual) for us and it fed us perfectly with no leftovers! I made the full amount of the amount of sauce, poured half over the chicken before baking, and saved half to thicken into a sauce.

I actually was able to prep it all the way through browning the chicken and pouring the sauce over it in the baking dish about 2 hours in advance. So when I got in from the gym I was able to just pop it in the oven. I also chopped up a broccoli crown, a red pepper, and two green onions and sauteed them in a bit of sesame oil; then served everything over white rice.

Sweet and Sour Chicken
from My Kitchen Cafe via Taste and Tell
Makes 4 servings

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1 cup cornstarch
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup canola oil

Cut boneless chicken breasts into chunks. Season with salt and pepper. Dip chicken in cornstarch and then in egg. Fry in a little oil until brown but not cooked through. Place in a single layer in a baking dish. Mix sauce ingredients (below) together and pour over chicken.

¾ cup sugar
4 tablespoons ketchup
½ cup vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic salt

Bake for one hour at 325 degrees. Turn chicken every 15 minutes. If you like extra sauce, make another batch of sauce and bring it to a boil on the stovetop. Stir constantly and let cook over medium heat until thickened and reduced - about 6-8 minutes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tomato and Sausage Risotto

Don't ask me why I chose to make risotto on a night when I didn't get home until after 6:30 from step class. Poor Chuck had to wait until after 8:00 to eat but THIS risotto is worth it! The recipe calls for the juices from the diced tomatoes instead of the traditional chicken broth, and the spicy sausage and spinach add a nice depth of flavor.

Truthfully, this particular risotto doesn't take as long as others I have made. If you have everything prepped and ready to go, this can be made in less than an hour. I used Asiago cheese instead of Parmesan because I had some in the fridge. Also, instead of using 3/4 pound of sausage, I used 1/2 pound plus some extra prosciutto I had leftover from the Ricotta, Fig, and Prosciutto Bruschetta. If you do this, just crisp it up a little bit in a saute pan:

Tomato and Sausage Risotto

from Everyday Food

Makes 4 servings

1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, in juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bunch flat-leaf spinach, (10 to 14 ounces), washed well, tough stems removed, chopped (about 7 Cups) (or 10 ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and drained)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving (optional)
2 tablespoons butter

In a small saucepan, combine tomatoes (with their juice) and 3 cups water. Bring just to a simmer; keep warm over low heat.

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add sausage and onion and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook, breaking up sausage with a spoon, until sausage is opaque and onion has softened, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add rice; cook, stirring until well coated, 1 to 2 minutes. Add wine; cook, stirring until absorbed, about 1 minute.

Add about 2 cups hot tomato mixture to rice; simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until absorbed, 4 to 5 minutes. Continue adding tomato mixture, 1 cup at a time, waiting for one cup to be absorbed before adding the next, stirring occasionally, until rice is creamy and just tender, about 25 minutes total (you may not have to use all the liquid).

Remove pan from heat. Stir in spinach, Parmesan, and butter; season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately (risotto will thicken as it cools), and sprinkle with additional Parmesan, if desired.