Monday, March 26, 2012

Sunday Night Dinner - Red Wine Braised Beef Ribs, Cheesy Potato Pie & Dessert!

I love Sunday night dinners.  Sunday night is the time to go all out.  To get your family around the table and take that one last relaxing moment before you are back to the grind in the morning. 

I also love Michael Smith on the Food Network. His recipes and Sunday nights go hand in hand.  He cooks with fresh, seasonal foods, and he is against the idea of a 'recipe' and believes more in learning how to cook, learning what goes well together, and running with it. 

For this past Sunday night dinner, I made Michael's Red Wine Braised Beef Ribs, and Cheesy Potato Pie.  I also added in steamed asparagus, and for dessert I made Butter tart Squares.  These are pretty easy and I have included the recipe below.  The ribs were to die for - hope you enjoy them as much as my family & I did!!

Some exciting news to add to the mix before continuing - we are moving in 3 days to a beautiful new home.  Yay!  What does this mean for you?  Well...I might not get to writing as much over the next couple of weeks.  We have a lot to do and not much time to do it.  We are working at surprising the kids (they have no idea we are moving) and this has proved to be extremely difficult.  Kind of hard to pack and prepare, when you can't do it in front of them!  Despite the headaches that come with moving, we are extremely excited to be moving from our apartment into a space that the kids deserve.  I'm looking forward to buying new kitchen appliances (now that they will fit in our new kitchen) and trying out new recipes and methods of cooking.  The Farmer's Market opens soon, which is my absolute favorite place to be, so stay tuned for canning recipes and healthy fresh ideas for seasonal produce.  Can't wait!!

Chef At Home (Michael Smith) Red Wine Braised Beef Ribs
4 T vegetable oil
4 beef ribs about 6-8" long (I used 8 ribs)
3 onions chopped
2 celery chopped
3 carrots chopped (I found that 2 were enough)
1 bottle Cabernet Sauvignon (I found a cheap one at the LCBO for 8.95 - don't spend too much, you aren't drinking it!)
1 T rosemary
4 Bay leaves
Salt & Pepper

Preheat your oven to 325.  Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat and cover the bottom with the oil.  Add the ribs and brown them well on all sides (this took about 10 minutes).  Place the ribs aside, drain some of the fat from the pan (I didn't) and return it to the heat.  Add the veggies and saute for a few minutes.  Add the ribs back in, meat side down, and cover them with the full bottle of wine.  Add the seasonings and cover with a tight fitting lid, or foil.  Put in the oven for at least 2 hours.  Ribs are done when the meat is falling off of the bone (I found 2 hours was good, although if we hadn't been so hungry it could have gone another half an hour).  Enjoy!!

I served these with Cheesy Potato Pie...

Chef At Home (Michael Smith) Cheesy Potato Pie
7-8 Yukon Gold Potatoes
2c Whipping Cream (I used 2% milk)
1 tsp nutmeg
salt & pepper
12 oz grated Gruyere (I used very old white cheddar)

Preheat oven to 350.  Place a 12" cast iron skillet in the oven to preheat and lightly oil once you are about to use it.  Meanwhile grate the potatoes into a large pot.  Add the cream (or milk), nutmeg, salt and pepper, and bring the mixture to a simmer.  Stir in cheese and pour into preheated pan.  Bake 45-60 minutes until the pie has a deep golden crust (I baked 50 minutes, then broiled for about 10 minutes to brown it up nicely).  Loosen the edges with a knife and invert onto a serving platter while still warm.  Cut into slices and serve.  Delicious!

I also steamed some asparagus for a few minutes and served it alongside this delectable meal.

And then the dessert...yum...

Butter Tart Squares

2 c flour
1/2 c sugar
1 c cold butter cubed

Mix above ingredients and press into a 9"x13" pan - bake at 350 for about 15 minutes (until golden)

1/4 c butter melted
3 eggs beaten
2 c brown sugar
1/2 c rolled oats
3 T flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c raisins

Mix above ingredients and pour over base.  Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges.  Let cool completely (I popped mine in the freezer for about 25 minutes since I knew the kids would want some after dinner).  Best if left over night and then cut into squares.

I wish I could remember where I got this recipe from so that I could give credit where it's due, but unfortunately I don't.  It's a great, simple recipe though.  They come out tasting just like the butter rich! 

Until next time!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Make Ahead & Freeze - Tex Mex Casserole With Monterey Jack

I'm all about short cuts.  If there is a way to get a healthy, home cooked meal on my kitchen table with minimal effort, then I'm totally in.  I'm sure you'll agree that with busy lives, working full time and getting the kids off to their various afters school activities, there isn't always time to slave away in the kitchen. 

Sometimes on a Sunday, I will make a couple of casseroles that can be frozen, and pulled out of the freezer during the week for a quick hot meal.  This is one of those recipes and it's great.

Tex Mex Casserole With Monterey Jack
1 T Olive Oil
2 onions chopped
2 cubanelle peppers chopped (I used sweet peppers)
2lb ground beef
2 garlic minced
2 T chili powder
1 T cumin
1/2 tsp each of salt & pepper
1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes (I used about 2 T)
3 T tomato paste
1 can whole tomatoes, chopped (I used a can of chopped tomatoes)
2c chopped zucchini (I left this out, my daughter doesn't like zucchini)
2/3c beef broth
6 large tortillas
3 1/2c shredded monterey jack cheese (I used the shredded taco mix that you can buy)

In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook oil with onions, and peppers for 7 minutes.  Push to the side of the pan and add the to the other side.  Cook, breaking apart the meat, for 4 minutes.  Stir in garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes.  Stir in tomato paste, and cook 1 minute.  Stir in tomatoes, zucchini, and broth.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.  Let cool.  Spread 1c of the beef mixture in a 13x9 dish (I use the aluminum disposable pans for easy clean up; I just throw it out when it's done).  Layer with 2 tortillas, then a generous 2c of the beef mixture.  Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese.  Starting with the tortillas, repeat the layers twice.  Cover with foil and bake in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes.  uncover and broil until cheese is browned, about 4 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

To make ahead and freeze, make it but don't bake it.  Cover with plastic wrap and then foil.  Freeze for up to 2 months.  Thaw in the fridge for 24 hours, remove the plastic, re-cover with the foil and bake in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Uncover and bake another 15 minutes.  Then broil for 4 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Try it, eat it, love it!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Slow Cooker Chili-Cinnamon Pork With Pineapple

I truly don't know what I would do without my beloved slow cooker.  I have said this over and over in every slow cooker recipe post, but I can't stress it enough. 

In this case, I took a recipe that was not meant for the slow cooker, and threw everything in there anyways.  I knew I wanted pork, and I knew I wouldn't have enough time on a week night to make it the way I wanted to, so I pulled out my trusty friend and dumped everything in there.  With a few little tweaks, it turned into a wonderful slow cooker recipe.

The picture below is how would have looked, had I made the recipe the way it said to.  Thank you, dear Chatelaine.  Oh, how I love your recipes.

I will put unedited recipe, as well as what I actually did, as always...

Chili-Cinnamon Pork With Pineapple
1 large pork tenderloin (I used pork shoulder - great in the slow cooker)
1/2 tsp each of cinnamon and salt (I used a lot more..not sure of exact measurements, maybe 2T each)
1 T Olive oil (I didn't use any - no need to use any fats or oils in a slow cooker)
1 1/2c pineapple juice (I used a can of pineapple chunks, with the juice)
1 tsp red chili flakes (I used about 2T)
1/2 pineapple cut in 1/2" pieces (I omitted, since I used the can with the chunks already)
1 green onion thinly sliced (I omitted)
I also added ginger ale to cover the pork, and when I got home from work I added in a can of sweetened condensed milk.  Near the end of the cooking process, I added flour, but more on that below.

Slice pork into 1/2" rounds.  Combine cinnamon and salt in a small bowl and sprinkle all over pork.  Heat a large frying pan over medium-high.  Add oil, then half of the meat.  Cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side.  If meat is browning too quickly, reduce to medium.  Transfer to a plate.  Repeat with remaining meat, transfer to a plate, and cover with foil.  Pour pineapple juice into the pan.  Sprinkle in the chili flakes.  Bring to a boil.  Using a wooden spoon, scrape up any brown bits.  Boil, stirring often, until liquid reduces to half a cup, about 10 minutes.  Return meat and any juices to the pan.  Add pineapple.  Reduce heat to medium.  Gently boil uncovered, stirring occasionally, until meat is warmed through, about 2 minutes.  Transfer meat and pineapple to plates and spoon sauce over top.  Sprinkle with green onions.  Serve with rice.

Not a bad recipe and cooking method.  Not bad at all.  But way too much work for me on a night when I'm tired and just want to eat.  So here is what I actually did:

Throw everything into the slow cooker.  As I mentioned above, I topped it off with ginger ale just to ensure the meat was covered with liquid.  I also put a lot more cinnamon and chili flakes in.  I threw in some Cajun seasoning as well.  Put on the lid, and turn the heat to low. Go do whatever you want to do for about 8 hours.  When the time is up, take the pork out of the slow cooker carefully - don't splash, it will hurt, I promise you.  Put the meat in a large bowl.  Get some flour (about half a cup) and mix it up with water in a small bowl until it's thinner than a paste, but thicker than just liquid.  Add that to the slow cooker liquid, mix it up, add a can of sweetened condensed milk, mix it up and put the lid back on.  Turn it up to high.  Then take 2 forks, and shred your meat into pieces.  It will shred easily, it's been cooking all day, remember?  Throw your pieces back into the liquid and stir it up.  Let it cook for about half an hour more on high.  Eat it over rice.  Incredibly delicious.

Yum...I'm going to go eat some leftovers...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Shrimp & Spinach Salad With Bacon Dressing

Oh's a salad night recipe!  This one is pretty easy, and super hearty.  You really feel like you ate a meal after this baby.  I can't remember  where I got the recipe from, but it's a keeper.  I left out a couple of things, and of course might have added some in.

Cooking is really about being innovative with the items you have on hand.  Just because a recipe says you require something, doesn't mean you really do.  If you need carrots, but only have celery, use them!  If you need tomato paste, but only have tomato sauce, or better yet, fresh tomatoes, use them!  You can swap out herbs, leave out foods you don't like, add foods that you do.  It's all fun and games in the kitchen, so go nuts!

Shrimp & Spinach Salad With Bacon Dressing
8oz shrimp (I used a medium sized bag)
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
6oz baby spinach (I used about half a large container)
1c sliced mushrooms (I left these out - wasn't running to the grocery store for 1 item)
6 strips of bacon cut in small pieces (I used about 10; who doesn't love bacon??)
1 red onion sliced
2 T pine nuts (left these thanks)
3T red wine vinegar (I used 9 T)
1 T Dijon mustard (I used 3 T)
Olive Oil
(I also added some chopped celery to the mix - about 3 stalks)

Cook bacon until crisp (here is my confession.  I never cook bacon in a frying pan.  It makes my house smell greasy, I smell it on my hair and clothes forever, and it's way too fatty.  I layer the slices on paper towel on a plate and pop them in the microwave.  The paper towel soaks up all of the grease, and it smells for all of five minutes.  They are done painlessly, in a lower fat way, without hot oil splashing on me and burning my oh so delicate skin...).  Add onion and mushrooms (oops..) to hot skillet until onions begin to brown, about 3 minutes (my skillet had onions and celery).  Season shrimp with salt & pepper to taste, and add them to the skillet along with pine nuts (again, no thanks).  When shrimp are pink (mine already were since they were cooked and not raw, I just wanted to warm them up) and firm, 2-4 minutes, stir in vinegar and mustard.  Season again with salt & pepper to taste.  If skillet seems dry, add a splash of oil.  Divide spinach and eggs among 4 plates and top with hot shrimp mixture, some of the dressing from the skillet, and bacon pieces.  I also added some chopped parsley on top for looks.

Not bad for a salad entree.  Not bad at all.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Finger Food Friday!!

I love finger foods.  Wings, chips and veggies with different dips - so good!  Last night we had finger foods for dinner, so I experimented with some new dip recipes and they were a hit.  Tonight we'll be having leftovers of everything; I honestly would eat the left over dips for days!!

The recipes for today include crescent wrapped brie, baked artichoke dip, havarti & green onion dip, and chicken wings with a homemade hot sauce.  Mmmmm....

The first thing I made was the Pillsbury Crescent Wrapped Brie.  Baked warm cheese wrapped in crescent roll dough - is there any possible way at all that you could go wrong with this??  Not likely.

Pillsbury Crescent Wrapped Brie
1 package of pillsbury crescent rolls
1 round 8oz brie (I used one small brie and one small camembert...they were on sale at No Frills)
1 egg beaten (I totally forgot about this and left it out)

Heat oven to 350.  Unroll dough and separate into 2 sections.  Firmly press perforations, forming 2 solid squares.  Place 1 on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Set cheese in centre of dough.  Place 2nd dough square on top of cheese and press around to seal completely.  Brush with egg and bake 25-30 minutes or until a deep golden brown.  Cool 15 minutes before serving.  BUT, here's what I did; separated into 2 squares and wrapped each mini-round in the dough, put them on a parchment lined sheet and baked 27 minutes.  I served this with the president's choice bacon marmalade (which really just tastes like marmalade) but any fruit jam would be great with it.  Delicious.

Next up, my mom's artichoke dip recipe.  So good.

Mom's Artichoke Dip
1 can of artichokes, drained
1c grated parmesan
1/2c mayo (I used plain greek style yogurt to cut the fat)
1/4 tsp garlic powder (I grated a garlic clove in with the cheese)

Heat oven to 350 (works will with the brie, same temp and same  time to bake).  Blend up the artichokes in a food processor (I used the magic bullet).  Add mayo (or yogurt), cheese, garlic, and mix well.  Put in the oven for 25-30 minutes (I did 27, with the brie).  So yummy.  I served this with 3 different chips (blue corn, sweet potato, and veggie - all presidents choice), as well as cut up celery and different colored peppers, triscuit crackers, and ritz crackers. 

And yet another fabulous dip...

Kraft Hot Havarti & Green Onion Dip
1 pkg brick cream cheese, softened (I used the light cream cheese)
1 1/2c shredded havarti (I used the jalapeno havarti for some added spice)
1/3c miracle whip (again, I used yogurt here)
2 tsp hot pepper sauce (I used the home made sauce that I gave you the recipe for in an earlier entry)
3 green onions sliced (I did about 6)
Various items to serve dip with (I used the same as above; crackers, chips & veggies)

Heat oven to 350 (again, you can throw everything in together.  It's always great to choose 'like' recipes that can all be cooked at the same time as well).  Mix the first 4 ingredients until well  blended.  Stir in 1/3 of the onions.  Bake 14-16 minutes (I always choose a middle number, so this was 15 mins) or until heated through.  Sprinkle with remaining green onions and serve with crackers, veggies, etc.

And lastly, my absolute favorite...home made wings with hot sauce.  I also made a blue cheese sauce.  We used a combination of a few recipes for this (and for the blue cheese, there was no recipe), so I'll be as detailed as possible and try not to forget anything.  The cooking method is very important for perfect wings everytime.  Trust me.

Our Take on Perfect Hot Wings
about 20 chicken wings
vinegar & water
1c flour
1tsp seasoning salt
1tsp cayenne
Hot Sauce
1c hot sauce (I recommend Frank's Red Hot for this)
1c melted butter at room temperature
1 tsp lemon juice, 1 tsp of zest
2 tsp basil
Blue Cheese Sauce
1c yogurt
1/4 log of goat cheese
2 big T of crumbled blue cheese
1 T vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1 chopped garlic

To prep the wings, throw them in a pot and cover with water, then about 1c of vinegar.  This is a brine.  It softens the meat, plumps up the wings, and ensures you will have moist meat at at the end of the cooking process.  Leave your raw wings in the brine for about 3 hours.  In the meantime you can make the 2 sauces and refrigerate (mix all ingredients together, that's it).

When the wings are finished in the brine, drain them, then pat them dry very well.  They need to be super dry.  I put them on a few paper towels and cover them with paper towel, and push down to pull out any moisture.

When the wings are dry, throw the flour and seasonings into a large ziploc bag.  Put the wings in, shake, shake, shake, and then remove the wings one by one and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Here's the third important tip for crispy wings - you now have to chill them for at least an hour, but the longer, the better.  So pop them in your fridge and munch on your dips and veggies.  You can turn on your oven to 400 now though.

When it has been at least an hour, put your wings in your 400 degree oven and set the timer for 25 minutes.  At 25 minutes, turn them all, and set the timer for another 20 minutes.  When the 20 minutes are up, you are ready to enjoy some fantastic crispy wings.  Serve them with your hot sauce and blue cheese sauce on the side.

So remember, 3 very important pieces to crispy baked wings - the brine, the drying process, and the chilling process.  You get these straight and you'll have perfect wings every single time.  The process is a bit dragged out, but it's so worth it.  Take my word for it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Creamy Bean Salad With Soft Boiled Egg

I love salad night!  Every Wednesday in our home is salad night, and along with Meatless Mondays, this is my attempt to get more veggies and healthy goodness into my loved one's bellies.  Salads are so versatile, and can easily be turned into a meal.

When I saw this recipe in Chatelaine. I knew I had to try it immediately.  I love goat cheese, I love green beans, and I love soft boiled eggs, so it was a perfect fit.  I'm sure you will agree!

Try picking a 'healthy alternative night' in your home.  When you set a rule and get into the habit of following through, it becomes second nature.  My boyfriend wasn't too impressed about meatless Mondays or salad Wednesdays when I first brought it up to him at the beginning of the year, but the infamous meat & potatoes man has actually grown to like tofu.  And my daughter actually gets excited over tofu.  Like, seriously.

It's all about your cooking methods, and seasoning.  Tofu can taste like chicken; I know you've heard that before, but it's true!  And they sell such versatile veggie options now - you can get ground tofu that tastes like ground beef, or veggie bologna for lunch sandwiches.  Vegetarians are a growing breed, so the choices out there are incredibly vast.

Creamy Bean Salad With Soft Boiled Egg (this recipe serves 2, but I doubled everything to serve 4)

2 eggs (I used 4)
250g green beans (I used about 4 cups)
1 T lemon juice (I used 2)
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest (I didn't use any, had no lemons)
1/8 tsp salt (really? 1/8 tsp?  I just shook some really?)
1 garlic clove, chopped (you guessed it, I used 2)
2 T oil
1 roasted red pepper diced (I used about 1 and a 1/2 - it's all I had left)
1/2 log goat cheese crumbled (I used about 3/4 of a log - didn't want to overdo this part)
4c mixed baby greens (I used spinach, about 6c)

Bring large pot of water to a boil.  Add eggs and boil 4-5 minutes (I followed this and did 5 minutes, but my eggs were a little too soft.  Next time I will do 6 minutes to be safe).  Remove eggs and plunge in cold a bowl of cold water.  Add salt to the same boiling water (that you had the eggs in) and add the beans.  Cook 4-6 minutes (I always pick the middle number, so I cooked mine for exactly 5 minutes and they were perfect).  Drain and rinse immediately with cold water.  Pat dry (I didn't).  Whisk lemon juice with zest (if using), garlic and salt in a large bowl.  Whisk in oil (I actually forgot this step and ended up leaving the oil out - it was still perfect!).  Stir in red pepper and goat cheese.  Add beans and toss to evenly coat.  Divide greens among 2 plates (or 4, depending on how many you made the recipe for).  Top with green bean mixture.  Peel eggs, and place one over each portion.  Slice open with a knife.  Season with pepper and serve!

Nutritional info per serving:
342 calories
16g protein
16g carbs
26g fat
5g fiber

Oh so delicious!!  The creaminess of the goat cheese with the tart sweetness of the lemon juice and roasted red peppers...the egg yolk cascading in a lovely yellow waterfall over your entire bowl.  The hot and cold of it all...the crunch of the green beans.  I don't think I have been this excited about a salad in a long time.  It was absolutely divine.

Try it out - your whole family will love it!!

Friday, March 2, 2012

EASY Creamy Chicken & Spinach Pasta

Sometimes I wish I had the Staples easy button in my kitchen.  I would come home from work, press my easy button, and BAM!  My dinner would be ready, complete with healthy veggies and fiber filled creations, the table would be set, and all would be well in the world.  Ahhhh yes...

Unfortunately this will never be a reality (or will it?  We've got robots, no?  It might so the next best thing is the slow cooker (as I've mentioned) and super easy, healthy recipes, like the one I have for you today.  This pasta comes out creamy and tasting like it's going to cost you 1000 calories.  But it doesn't, which my ass is very thankful for.  I believe it's from Chatelaine magazine, but don't quote me on that.

Creamy Chicken and Spinach Pasta
1 T oil
12oz chicken breasts cubed (I used about 5 and cut them up, so much more then 12oz)
1 onion chopped (I used 2)
2 garlic minced
1/2 tsp pepper (who really measures this??)
2 T flour
1 can fat free evaporated milk (I used 2 cans, it needed more sauce)
5c whole wheat penne (I used a whole box, not sure how many cups that is)
1/2 bag spinach (I used a whole bag, small bag)
3/4c diced sweet peppers
1/3c fresh basil (I completely forgot about this, so it was left out)
3 T lemon juice
2 green onions chopped

In a large non-stick skillet heat oil over medium heat.  Brown chicken, and transfer to a bowl.  Drain fat from pan (I didn't do this..there was no fat..).  Add onion, garlic and pepper, and fry for 5 minutes.  Sprinkle with flour and cook stirring for 1 minute (this is just to get the raw flour taste out - you probably won't last a full minute before everything is dried out and on the brink of burning, so 30 seconds is good).  Return chicken and any juices to the pan.  Add milk and cook, stirring, without boiling, until thick enough to coat the back of your spoon, about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile cook the penne (if you don't know how to do this, read the box!).  Add spinach in the last few seconds of cooking, drain all, and return to the pot.  Add chicken mixture, red pepper, basil (oops), lemon juice, and green onions.  Toss to combine and serve.

When my boyfriend tried this, he couldn't believe it was low fat.  Fat free evaporated milk is a GREAT substitute to any cream or milk based recipes.  It's so thick and creamy that you really don't notice the difference.

Hope you enjoy this dish as much as we did!

Until next time...