Tuesday, December 31, 2013

English Muffin Bread

This bread is for my dad. Literally. I made it for him for his birthday earlier in December. You see my dad loves English muffins. So I decided to make him this delicious bread that is very reminiscent of that crackly perfectly toast-able muffin. Instead of individual muffins, it is a slice-able bread. Which makes it SO EASY to make. Easiest yeast bread I've ever made. Truth.

All you do is throw the ingredients into a bowl and mix. Let it rise. Separate into two loaves. Let them rise. Bake. No kneading necessary. This is so easy that I have made it three times in the past few months. The first time I was just trying it out for myself. Second time was for my dad's birthday present. Third time was when I was home visiting the family for Christmas.

Besides being easy, it is delicious. So perfect. My family was begging me to make it again after we demolished Dad's birthday loaf in two days. Hence the third time. This is your gateway recipe to yeast breads if you have never made them. You won't regret it. I promise.

English Muffin Bread (adapted from Foodie with Family)
2 3/4 cup warm water
1 tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp + 1 1/4 tsp yeast
1 tbsp kosher salt
5 3/4 all-purpose or bread flour*
Cooking spray
Melted butter (about 1-2 tbsp)

Combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl (the bowl of your stand mixer works well). Let the yeast bloom for about 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and flour. Mix until just combined. It should be very sticky and lumpy still. Spray a piece of plastic wrap with cooking spray and drape over the bowl. Let the dough rise in a warm area until very puffy and about double in size.

Spray two bread pans with cooking spray. Sprinkle with cornmeal and shake to cover all of the surfaces of the pan. The dough will be very sticky so spray your hands with the cooking spray. Then, lightly punch down the dough, separate two pieces, and place them in the prepared pans. Each pan should be filled about halfway. Cover loosely with cooking spray covered plastic wrap and let rise about 30-60 minutes until they puff over the top of the pans.

Preheat oven to 350 F while the dough is rising. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the pans and brush with melted butter. Bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove and brush with the rest of the melted butter. Turn the loaves out on a wire rack to cool.

Serve toasted with butter or jelly or whatever you desire. Or make it into a delicious grilled cheese.

Makes 2 loaves.

Note: If you don't want to eat both loaves right away, give the second one to a friend. Or wrap it completely in plastic wrap followed by foil and place in the freezer. Thaw at room temperature or in the fridge.

*I have used all all-purpose flour or a 50/50 mix of bread and all-purpose. Use whatever you have in your pantry.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Chocolate Mint Cookies

Christmastime is the time for baking cookies. Pull out your KitchenAid mixer (or hand mixer or wooden spoon) and start to cream some sugar and butter together. Stir in some flour and something to give it a little bit of flavor. Shape them and throw them in the oven for about 15 minutes. There you go. Cookies.

When I'm home to my parents for the holidays, we have certain cookies that we always make. It just wouldn't be Christmas without cutout sugar cookies, peanut blossoms, and pecan thumbprints. What are your cookie necessities?

But I can never just leave it at that. If you know me, you know I love a new recipe. So last year I tried out gingerbread cookies. This year I made some chocolate mint cookies. They are perfect for the holidays. Do me a favor and throw them in freezer-- divine! They may be reminiscent of another cookie you've had before...

Chocolate Mint Cookies (adapted from Taste of Home November 2011)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup 2% milk
3/4 tsp mint extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1/4 cup cornstarch
dash of salt
1 lb chocolate candy coating

In a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the milk, mint extract, and vanilla extract. Stir together the flour, cocoa, and salt. Add the dry ingredients gradually to the stirring creamed butter and mix well.

Shape the dough into two 1 inch diameter rolls and wrap in wax paper. Freeze for about 2 hours until dough is firm.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Unwrap and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Place prepared baking sheets. Freeze additional dough if you can't fit it all on the baking sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes until set. Let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Melt the candy coating in a glass bowl according to the package directions. Dip the cookies into the melted chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off. Place on waxed paper and decorate with sprinkles. Let stand until set.

Makes about 7 dozen cookies.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Stout Mac and Cheese

What is your favorite Christmas song?

That is it. I just want your feedback. :) While you think about it, make this cheesy, beery, spicy mac and cheese. Packed full of flavor with chorizo and multiple cheeses, it is guaranteed to make you sing.

Now what song are you singing?

Stout Mac and Cheese (adapted from Cooking Light)
4 oz small pasta (I used shells)
1 tsp canola oil
2 oz chorizo
1/3 cup diced onion
1 1/4 tbsp flour
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup stout beer (I used Guinness)
3 tbsp milk
1 1/2 oz freshly shredded cheddar cheese
1 oz velveeta cheese

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Cook pasta according to package. Drain.

Heat the oil in pan over medium heat. Add the chorizo and onion and cook about 6 minutes, crumbling the meat. Add the flour and a grind or two of freshly ground pepper. Stir about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Whisk in the beer and then bring to a boil. Stir constantly for about 3 minutes until it thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the milk and cheeses until melted. Stir in the pasta and toss to coat completely. Divide into two individual casserole dishes coated with cooking spray.

Bake for 10 minutes until browned.

Serves 2.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mushroom and Sausage Ragu

Winter is certainly here. In central Illinois we have wind chills below zero already. I bundle up to head outside in a puffy coat, scarf, hat, and mittens and I am still cold. The wind... the wind gets me every time.

With the weather chilling our bodies, it is essential that we eat good warm comfort food. Something like the lasagna soup I showed you earlier this week. Or let's be honest, any kind of soup will do. Maybe you aren't feeling soup, so please try this quick and easy mushroom and sausage ragu. I served it atop some creamy cheesy polenta in order to make it complete comfort. It'll warm your soul. I promise.

Mushroom and Sausage Ragu with Polenta (adapted from Cooking Light The New Way To Cook Light)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces Italian sausage (I used hot but pick your spice level)
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 lb button mushrooms, sliced
1 large garlic cloves
1/2 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth (homemade or low sodium store-bought)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup uncooked polenta
1/4 cup Neufchatel cheese (1/3 less fat cream cheese)
1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat 1 tsp of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, about 3 minutes, stirring to crumble. Remove sausage to a plate.

Heat another 2 tsp of oil in the skillet. Add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic and cook for another 1 minute while constantly stirring. Return the sausage to the pan and mix in the tomatoes. Season with a dash of salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes.

Bring the broth and water to a boil in a saucepan. Whisk in the polenta. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes until thick, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cheese and butter and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the polenta topped with the ragu.

Serves 2.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lasagna Soup

Oh hey there fancy pants!

I have been wearing my fancy pants for almost all of November and fancy pants apparently do not allow for blog posting. Actually, I kid, it is the job interviewing and flying all over the country that does not allow for blog posting. I do [almost] officially have a job as a professor starting Fall 2014. I'll tell you details at a later point once I dot all the i's and cross all the t's.

For now I'll just share with you a comforting fall or winter soup. I love lasagna but with an always busy schedule I rarely have the time to assemble and bake the whole casserole. This soup completely lives up to the flavors of tomato, cheese, and pasta that I crave but without the time commitment. I filled it with a little bit of ground beef and a ton of mushrooms because that is how I prefer my lasagna, but feel free to do your thing.

Lasagna Soup (adapted from Paula Deen)
1/3 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1/2 tsp ground thyme
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 cups chicken stock (homemade or low sodium store-bought)
2 cups water
28 oz can petite diced tomatoes
15 oz can tomato sauce
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp salt (+ more to taste)
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 cups broken lasagna noodles
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
shredded mozzarella cheese, about 2 cups

In a Dutch oven, cook the ground beef, onion, bell pepper, and garlic over medium-high heat for about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the beef is browned. Drain. Stir in the mushrooms, thyme, brown sugar, stock, water, tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the broken noodles and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the parmesan cheese.

Preheat the broiler. Ladle whatever soup you are going to eat into ovenproof crocks/bowls. Sprinkle each with about 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese. Broil about 6-inches from the heat for about 3-4 minutes until melted, browned and bubbly.

Serves 6-8.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Peanut Butter Candy Cookies

Question: is it still considered candy if you mix it with flour and sugar and bake it into a cookie?

This is the time of the year for candy! Halloween is around the corner and whether you are looking to bake up some treats for the office or make some of the candy disappear so you don't eat it by the handful, this recipe is for you. The pudding makes the cookies so soft and the peanut butter AND chocolate chips WITH the Reese's pieces makes them heavenly. You will need some milk to wash this down.

Seriously no evil spirits in these cookies at all.... unless you're counting calories. :)

Peanut Butter Candy Cookies (adapted from Sweet Pea's Kitchen)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
dash of salt
3.4 oz box instant vanilla pudding
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 cup Reese's pieces

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl that you can use your hand mixer with), beat the butter, peanut butter, and sugars on a medium speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until combines. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and pudding in another bowl and whisk to combine. While your stand mixer is beating on low, add the flour mixture until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the candies until incorporated.

Roll dough into balls about 1 tbsp in size and place on your prepared baking sheets. Flatten with your hand until they are about 3/4 inch thick.

Bake 10 minutes. Cool on the sheets for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mexican Tortellini Skillet

Candy Crush.

Addicting, amiright?

I started playing it shortly after it became super popular. BUT I refused to link it to my facebook because why in the world would I want the world to know how much time I waste playing games on my phone? So eventually I hit that level that I needed to get help from my facebook friends (or pay money to the app store) to move on. I said, see you later, Candy Crush. We are over.

Then recently I learned that they have these "quests" you can play to avoid asking your friends for help. I resisted for a little while but then I downloaded it back on my phone. Now, I've been playing it probably too much lately. What can I say? It helps me de-stress.

You know the best thing about Candy Crush? You can only play it for a certain amount of time. There is a built-in, put-your-phone-down-you-idiot-and-do-some-real-work fail safe. Talk about genius. Thank you, creators!

This tortellini skillet will prove to be just as addicting as Candy Crush. It is super quick and easy to make but packed full of flavor. It will be like when one of the wrapped candies and one of the striped candies mix in the game and you get a giant big candy that crushes lots of rows and columns. But in your mouth... in the flavors of Mexico.

Mexican Tortellini Skillet (inspired by Half Baked Harvest)
1/2 lb cheese tortellini
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 ear corn, kernels removed
1/2 tbsp ancho chili powder
1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1/4 cup salsa
1/8 cup pickled jalapenos
8 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 handful chives, diced
2 handfuls shredded Mexican cheese
tomatoes, avocado, Greek yogurt or sour cream, additional jalapenos, for serving

Preheat broiler.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the tortellini according to the package.

In a large oven-proof skillet*, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minutes. Add the corn, chili powder, cumin, and salsa and cook for about 4 more minutes. Stir in the pickled jalapeno and black beans and cook for another 4 minutes until the veggies are soft and cooked. Stir in the cooked and drained tortellini and chives. Stir to coat completely.

Top the pan with the shredded cheese and broil for about 1 minute until the cheese is melted and browned slightly.

Serve topped with chopped tomatoes, avocado, Greek yogurt, and additional jalapenos.

Serves 3-4.

*If you don't have an oven-proof skillet, just transfer the mixture to an oven-proof baking dish after you stir in the tortellini and chives, top with the cheese, and broil from there. But you should invest in an oven-proof skillet because then you will have one less dish to clean after dinner!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Cottage BELT

Let's talk about belts for a few minutes.

I purchased this one brown belt from the Buckle when I was in high school. Yeah, remember when you used to want to buy everything from the Buckle like their really expensive jeans and Doc Martens? Well, I bought this great brown belt. I wore it ALL THE TIME.

Then, of course I realized I needed a black belt, because we all know that one of the biggest fashion faux pas is a brown belt with black shoes or vice versa. So I bought a black belt from the Buckle for those intermittent times I wore black shoes. And there we go, a belt for every occasion.

As I have grown up (and definitely out of my Doc Martens, but not jeans, still L-O-V-E jeans), I have become a black-based outfit person. That means in the past 12 or 13 years since I invested in that black belt, I have worn it A LOT. It has worn holes... yes, multiple holes that have seen me through the shrinking and expanding stomach through the years. So imagine my disappointment when I realized that the belt was heading towards the end of its life. The stitching holding the buckle in place was about to give way forever. :(

I had to purchase a new belt. Nothing as great as my old one, but it'll get me through the days.

Now you want to know about the best belt? A Bacon, Egg, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich. Haha, you see what I did there? I know you probably don't need me to spell out how to make a BLT (with an egg), but I wanted to speak a little on this cottage bacon. I got it at the meat lab on campus. It is less fatty than typical bacon and mighty delicious. You should try it out.

Wear your belt and eat one too.

Did anyone else have a crazy sparkly belt when they were in high school?

Cottage BELT
2 pieces cottage bacon, cooked to your desired crispness
1 egg, cooked over medium
1 large lettuce leaf, torn in half
1 thick slice tomato
1 english muffin, toasted
1/2 tbsp light miracle whip (or mayo)

Spread the miracle whip on one of the muffin halves. Top with the lettuce, tomato, bacon and egg. Top with other half of muffin.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pulled Pork Spring Rolls and Wonton Tacos

Are you a leftover person?

My dad was definitely the leftover person of the family growing up. He was always heating up the leftover lasagna or putting the extra meatballs on a sandwich. Every now and again we would have a "leftover dinner"... you know, a clean out the refrigerator because there are too many tupperware containers in there dinner. I think I always enjoyed them because you got to eat a little bit of everything. And you know I love just about everything food related.

These days, leftovers are an inevitable part of my cooking. Sometimes I do the cooking for one but many times I'll make enough for 2-6 either because the recipe goes that way or so that I can have leftovers for lunch the next day. Every now and then, I like to repurpose my leftovers into something new. Here are two of my favs. Honestly, you don't have to use pulled pork and coleslaw; these are good with just about whatever you want to stuff into them.

Leftover Pulled Pork Spring Rolls and Wonton Tacos
Leftover pulled pork
Leftover vinaigrette coleslaw
wonton or egg roll wrappers


For the spring rolls, lay the egg roll wrappers on a clean surface. Place about 1 tbsp pulled pork and 1 tbsp coleslaw on each wrapper. Fold and roll up, sealing with water. Place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Coat the tops with cooking spray. Bake at 425F for about 15 minutes, turning halfway through.

For the wonton tacos, place a wire rack on a baking sheet. Drape the wonton wrappers over the rack. Bake at 400 F for about 3 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Fill the tacos with leftover pulled pork and coleslaw.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Chicken Gyro Lettuce Wraps

You know how some days you feel like you are running around like a crazy person? That you keep doing lots of work but somehow it feels like the to-do list keeps growing and never shrinking? What happens when that is your life for months on end? Does that just make you a crazy person?

Hi, my name is Julie and apparently I am a crazy person.

At least I still make (sometimes) and eat (most of the time) yummy food. Very rarely lately do I share it with you, but what can I say? I'm a crazy person. Enjoy these quick and easy chicken gyro lettuce wraps. They'll make you feel a little less insane.

Chicken Gyro Lettuce Wraps (adapted from Rachael Ray Magazine)
1/2 cup shredded cucumber
1/2 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
1/8 cup chopped fresh basil
1/8 cup chopped fresh mint
1/8 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/8 cup chopped fresh chives
1 lemon, juiced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 boneless skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper
Romaine hearts, for serving
Chopped pepperoncini and tomatoes, for serving

Place the cucumber in a colander and generously salt. Let rest for 10 minutes and then press out the liquid. Add the cucumber, yogurt, fresh herbs, 1/2 of the lemon juice, 1 clove of garlic and 1/4 tsp cumin to a food processor. Puree until almost smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Combine the other half of the lemon juice with the other clove of garlic and about 1/8 cup oil. Mix in the paprika, oregano, coriander, and 1/2 tsp cumin. Place the chicken in the marinade and toss to coat. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Heat a grill over medium-high heat. Shake of any excess marinade. Cook, flipping halfway through, for about 10 minutes until cooked through. Slice into pieces.

Serve the chicken on top of the romaine hearts garnished with pepperonicini, tomatoes, and cucumber sauce.

Serves 2.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Chicken Tikka Masala (Slow Cooker)

Probably at least 7 out of 10 people who you ask their go-to Indian dish will answer chicken tikka masala. In my opinion, it is the gateway Indian food. No matter where you get it, you know it will be yummy. There is just something about that creamy, spicy (although not too hot) tomato sauce that is perfect to lap up with naan. I had been wanting to make this at home for awhile and when I stumbled across a version for the slow cooker, I knew this would a great place to start. Since it is in the slow cooker, the chicken basically falls apart so, as you can see below, it resembles a pulled chicken more than the typical chopped chicken. But don't let that scare you away. It is exactly what you were dreaming of... or at least what I was dreaming of.

I served it with some cooked rice and naan bread. My only regret- I didn't have time to make my homemade naan. Ah well, next time, for sure.

Chicken Tikka Masala (adapted from Table for Two)
1 lb boneless skinless chicken (combination of breast and thigh or whichever you prefer)
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
29 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cups fat free plain yogurt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp cumin
1/2 tbsp paprika
pinch of kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 bay leaves
1 cup half and half
3 tbsp cornstarch

Combine the onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, yogurt, oil, garam masala, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper and CRP in the crock of a slow cooker. Nestle the chicken into the sauce and make sure it is completely covered. Place the bay leaves on top of the sauce.

Cook on low for 8-9 hours, turning to warm after that time if you aren't ready to eat. 30 minutes before the meal, whisk the cornstarch into the half and half and mix into the crockpot. As you mix, gently shred the chicken with the spoon. Cook on high for about 20 minutes.

Serve hot with cooked rice and/or accompanied by naan (homemade if you have time!).

Serves 4-6.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Roasted Chickpeas

Oh chickpeas. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1. Creamy in a hummus
2. Mixed into a salad
3. Smashed on a sandwich

And I'm adding a new one today.

4. Crispy and by the handful

Roasted Chickpeas (Cooking technique from A Spicy Perspective although it is all over the internet)
1 can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt*
freshly ground pepper*

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Spread the chickpeas on the baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Sprinkle on the salt and pepper-- I think I used about 1/4 tsp of each. Mix to coat.

Bake for 15 minutes. Stir to mix well. Bake for additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool before eating. They will crisp up a little bit.

*Feel free to try out whatever seasonings you would like.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Tempeh Greek Wrap

I remember my first experience with tofu on the college salad bar. It was this gross watery white sponge without texture and flavor. Needless to say, I did not enjoy it. But then I learned to love tofu. It is great when marinated and paired with bold flavors.

After I gained an appreciation for tofu, I wanted to venture out to other high protein soy products. The one on the top of my list was tempeh. Finally I have conquered that task.

Here is my take on tempeh--- first off, do not expect it to be anything like tofu. It is actually a hard pressed soybean product so the texture is completely different. You can actually see the soybeans! It is chewy and therefore holds up well for sandwiches. Like this Greek wrap. The flavor of the tempeh is lemony because that's what you cook it in. But paired with the salty feta and olives plus a tangy Greek yogurt spread and lots of fresh vegetables make this perfect for any summer lunch or quick dinner.

The verdict-- I like tempeh. I think I'll play around with it some more.

Tempeh Greek Wrap (adapted from Cooking Light)
4 oz tempeh
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup water
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
salt and freshly ground pepper
Diced tomatoes and cucumber
Spinach leaves
Sliced red onion
Crumbled feta cheese
Sliced olives
Tortilla or wraps (I like 100 calorie La Tortilla wheat wraps)

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add the tempeh and cook for 2 minutes on each side to brown slightly. Reduce heat to medium and pour in the water and juice from 1/2 of the lemon. Simmer for 10 minutes, flipping halfway through. Remove from pan and slice into 6-8 pieces.

In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, the other half of lemon juice, lemon zest and chives. Mix thoroughly and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Spread about 2 tbsp of the yogurt mixture on the wrap. Top with half of the tempeh. Add tomatoes, cucumber, spinach, onion, feta and olives. Roll up.

Makes enough for two wraps.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Summer Vegetable Minestrone (Slow Cooker)

This recipe is for my friend Bob. He asked me the other weekend for a good summer crockpot recipe. My go-to recipe is pulled pork because it is so easy and works anytime of the year. However, I had recently made this minestrone chalked full of summer produce that practically screams summertime.

Maybe not the best for the crazy 100 degree weather we've been having this week, but as long as you've got air conditioning, it'll be a great choice. Feel free to substitute any fresh vegetables that you desire... I was actually inspired by a springtime minestrone soup (follow the link below if you want it) but subbed in perfect summer vegetables like zucchini and corn.

Summer Vegetable Minestrone (adapted from HowSweetEats)
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 zucchini, chopped
kernels from one ear of corn
28 oz can diced tomatoes
16 oz can cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained
3 cups vegetable broth (homemade or low-sodium storebought)
3 cups water
8 oz uncooked small pasta (like mini penne)
6 oz fresh spinach
Salt and pepper, to taste
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, for serving

In the crock of your slow cooker, combine the onion, carrot, garlic, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, beans, vegetable broth and water. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Stir in the pasta and spinach and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the pasta is cooked. Season with salt and pepper to your liking

Serve topped with parmesan cheese.

Serves 6-8.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Shrimp Stuffed Poblanos

There is something you should know about me. I really like clean teeth. I definitely brush at least twice a day (more if I'm at home after lunch) and I floss and I use fluoride mouth rise. I like the feeling after swishing around the mouthwash because it burns and I know it is clean. I just can't imagine going to bed without brushing my teeth. Gross.

However, I do not love the dentist. I never have. I used to get sick at the dentist when they would shove those plastic mold things of fluoride in my mouth. And I had a lot of visits to the dentist and orthodontist growing up. Now I have straight, pretty, healthy teeth so I guess it is something that I have to endure. But for some reason  that gritty toothpaste they use makes my mouth feel unclean. Plus who in the world would want strawberry or bubblegum toothpaste? Mint is what makes your mouth taste clean, right?

Well today I went to the dentist and left feeling even grosser than ever! The hygienist put this fluoride paste on my teeth after she was done with the cleaning. It literally felt like I had gum stuck everywhere on my teeth. And she told me not to brush it off until after 4 hours. Since I'm a rule-follower, I suffered through the day with gunk on my teeth worrying that someone could tell and would think I had not brushed for days. Eww. Eww. Eww.

Anyway, on a happier note, make these shrimp stuffed poblano peppers. They are delicious and will definitely perk up any bad start to a day. Promise.

Shrimp Stuffed Poblanos (adapted from Cooking Light Jan/Feb 2010)
1 red bell pepper
8 poblano peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped into bite-sized pieces
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 cup half-and-half
3/4 cup skim milk
3/4 cup freshly shredded cheddar cheese
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
juice of one lime

Preheat broiler.

Cut the bells pepper in half lengthwise and remove seeds and membranes. Place cut side down on a baking sheet. Place the poblano peppers on the baking sheet. Broil for 10 minutes or until blackened, turning poblanos halfway through to blacken all sides. Place the peppers in a paper bag and fold to seal. Let stand for about 10 minutes. Peel. Chop the bell pepper. Cut the tops off of the poblanos and remove seeds.

Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add the oil. Add the shrimp and cook for about 3 minutes until cook through. Remove from the pan.

Add the garlic to the pan and cook stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Sprinkle with flour and CRP and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the half-and-half and 1/2 cup milk; cook 1 minute while stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and let stand for 2 minutes. Whisk in the cheese and stir until melted. Place 1/3 cup cheese mixture in a bowl, add the bell pepper, shrimp, parsley and lime juice, and stir to combine. Stir the 1/4 cup milk into the remaining cheese mixture. Stuff the poblanos with the shrimp mixture. Serve the poblanos with the additional cheese mixture.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Pretzel Hot Dog Buns

Another bites the dust. And another one gone and another one gone. Another one bites the dust.

Check another one off that bucket list.

I made hot dog buns!

And to make them even yummier, I made pretzel hot dog buns! Holy moly you gotta get on this as soon as possible. Before summer is done and the barbecue is packed up. On second thought, these may be your excuse for hot dogs any time of the year. Or they'd make one hell of a hoagie today, tomorrow and every day from now on.

Pretzel Hot Dog Buns (adapted from Jeff Mauro on Food Network)
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup water
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
1.5 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp garlic olive oil (or 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 garlic clove minced)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup bread flour
1/4 cup baking soda
kosher salt

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the milk, water, sugar and honey in a microwave safe measuring cup. Microwave for about 45 seconds until it reaches 105 F. Pour into the bowl of stand mixer and sprinkle with yeast. Let sit for 10-15 minutes until bubbly.

Add the oil and flour to the mixer. Mix on medium speed about 5-7 minutes until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out on floured surface and split into 4 equal pieces. Roll each into a ball and place on your baking sheet. Cover with a clean towel and let rest for 15 minutes. Roll each ball into a 7-inch log. Place back on the baking sheet. Cover again and let rest another 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the baking soda. Add two buns at a time and boil for 30 seconds on each side. Repeat with the other two buns. Place them back on the baking sheet and immediately sprinkle with kosher salt. Cut slits across the top of the breat.

Bake 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Once cooled, slice down side and serve with hot dogs topped with mustard and pickles (or whatever you prefer).

Makes 4 hot dog buns.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Cubano Stuffed Pork Chops

One of the best things about living is the Midwest is that you're surrounded by farmland. Coincidentally that is also one of the worst things-- flat land as far as you can see and hours to get from one place of civilization to the next. But let's focus on the good, okay? Farmland = fresh produce at the farmers' market during spring, summer, and fall! Farming at the university = fresh meat from the meat lab! A couple of weeks ago I had my first visit to this infamous meat lab on campus. One of my friends had been telling me about it since I started here but she finally convinced me to go. It was beautiful. There were wonderful cuts of meat from pigs and cows as well as fresh eggs!

I decided on some roast beef, mushroom and swiss sausages, and thick cut pork chops. The sausages and roast beef were pretty darn delicious, but the pork chops were AMAZING... so tender and fresh. I doctored them up to resemble a cubano sandwich-- stuffed full of swiss cheese, ham, pickles, and mustard and coated with crunchy panko. The original recipe from Cooking Light used a pork tenderloin and although I'm sure that would be good, but the pork chops allowed for quick cooking time and individual sized portions.

Cubano Stuffed Pork Chops (adapted from Cooking Light)
1 thick cut boneless pork chop, butterflied (about 1/2 lb)
1 slice deli ham
1 oz slice swiss cheese
1 small dill pickle, diced
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 400 F. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet and coat with cooking spray.

Separate the two sides of the pork chop. Using a sharp knife, slice into the pork chops to butterfly again but do not cut through. You want to have two butterflied chops that are about 1/2 inch in thickness.

Spread 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard over the open side of the chops. Place half of the swiss cheese slice on each chop, top with half of the ham slice and half of the diced pickles. Close the chop by pulling the top side back over the bottom and secure with toothpicks. Season the chops with salt and pepper.

Place the panko in a shallow bowl. Crust the stuffed pork with the panko, pressing to make sure it sticks. Place on the baking sheet. Coat the top of the chops with the cooking spray.

Bake 15-20 minutes until a thermometer stuck into the pork chop reads 155-160 F.

Serves 2.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shrimp Fried Barley

I'm nothing if I'm not a weirdo. I like peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. I dance like a crazy person around my apartment all by myself because sometimes music makes me hyper. I spend a few hours cleaning my desk at work and then the following day cannot figure out for the life of me where I put a specific piece of paper that I need. Let's not even talk about the assortment of music I have on my iPod.

So here I am, weirding up (or it is out?) your life with fried barley instead of rice. It is a nice change that I fully support.

Get down with your strange self. :)

Shrimp Fried Barley
1/2 tbsp peanut oil
2 green onions, diced, white and green parts separated
4 oz shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup chopped green beans
1 cup cooked barley
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp sriracha sauce
1/2 tsp fish sauce

Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the white parts of the onions and saute for about 1 minute until softened. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring frequently, for about 1-2 minutes until no longer completely pink. Add the green beans and saute for another minute. Add the barley and toss to mix everything, cooking for about 2-3 minutes. Push the barley mixture to the side and slide the beaten egg into the pan. Scramble. Mix the cooked egg into the barley. Sprinkle in the soy sauce, sriracha and fish sauce and toss to combine.

Serve topped with the green parts of the onion.

Serves 2.