Monday, April 19, 2010

Quick Pasta Salad

We were invited to some friends' house that we hadn't been to in a while and I wanted to make sure we brought something to contribute to the ribs and beans that were being cooked up for us. I bought tri-colored pasta several weeks back knowing that I would make a pasta salad out of it, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I just kind of used what I had knowing that the salad had to be quick and easy to refrigerate--and delicious for leftovers! This pasta was a great success, although I would have added more dressing to amp up the Italian flavor; I've added that modification in the recipe below. Make this when you're in a time crunch! Enjoy!

Quick Pasta Salad
Yields: 8-10 servings

1-16 oz. bag tri-colored curly pasta (or your favorite short pasta)
1 cup Zesty Italian dressing
1/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese
1 small can sliced ripe black olives
1 avocado, cubed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper

Bring a large stock pot full of water to a boil. Add in a tablespoon of salt and allow to dissolve. Add in the curly pasta and cook according to package directions. Once the pasta is done, drain it and run cold water over it for a few minutes.

Transfer to a large serving bowl. Drain olives and add to pasta. Cut up the avocado and put it in a separate bowl; pour the lemon juice over the top of it and stir to combine. Allow to sit while you finish up--add it at the end. Add in the cheeses, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Pour the salad dressing over the top and add the avocado and any extra lemon juice in the bowl. Toss to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to refrigerate for at least an hour. Before you serve it, taste it to make sure you have enough salt, pepper, etc. Add in extra as you see fit. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Taco Pizza

Finally! A one-pizza night! Normally, I have to make pizzas with two different toppings because my husband doesn't like the same fancy toppings I do. But, one night I was staring into the freezer at midnight, when I should have been in bed, wondering what to make for dinner the following day. Something in me said, "Taco pizza!" and before thinking about what he might say, I blurted it out. Shockingly, my husband said, "Oooo! That sounds amazing!" Score! This pizza was really delicious and I've added some modifications in the directions to make things a little clearer. Ole!

Taco Pizza

1 lb ground beef
1 packet Lawry's taco seasoning
1 heart of romaine lettuce, chopped
1 Roma tomato, chopped
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend
1/3 cup sour cream
1 cup of your favorite salsa
1 pizza dough (I used half wheat, half white from Fresh and Easy)
2 T flour
2 T olive oil

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Brown the hamburger in a pan; add seasoning packet and water as directed on the packet. Sprinkle the flour and drizzle the olive oil on a medium cookie sheet. Stretch out the dough and press it into the cookie sheet; work it enough to get it to go out to the edges of the sheet. Bake in the oven only half way, for about 4 minutes. Remove from oven and pour on the salsa. Top the salsa with the ground beef taco meat.

Sprinkle on the cheese. Bake in oven for no more than 10 more minutes--just enough to finish cooking the pizza dough and melt the cheese.

Put the sour cream in a small sandwich baggie and cut off just a bit of one of the corners. Sprinkle the lettuce and tomato on the melted cheese. Pipe the sour cream on the lettuce and tomato. Cut it into squares and enjoy! You could also top it with guacamole, taco sauce, chopped black olives, red onion, cilantro, or anything else that you like on your tacos!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Famous Potato Salad

I tried over and over to find a recipe that works. This one just does. There isn't much more to say. It's just stinkin' amazing. The flavors blend so perfectly together and it's difficult to refuse a second or third helping of this potato salad. I've made for several casual as well as more formal occasions and people have regularly said that it was the best they'd ever had. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Famous Potato Salad
Source: Me and Julia Child
Yields: 6-8 servings

5 Russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup chicken stock
3 Kosher pickles, diced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
3-4 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
8 green onions, finely chopped
salt and pepper
2/3 - 1 cup mayonnaise

Boil the potatoes until they are just fork tender. Drain and immediately transfer to a large, flat serving bowl. While the potatoes are still piping hot, pour on the cider vinegar and chicken stock. Stir the potatoes with the liquids so that they mix together. Allow to sit off to the side while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Add the chopped shallot, celery, pickles, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, green onions, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add in the mayonnaise and gently fold everything together until well blended. Taste the salad to decide if you need anymore salt or pepper; if you want it creamier, add more mayo. Cover the salad and let sit in the fridge for at least an hour before serving. To serve, decorate at the last moment with paprika.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Blackberry Crumble

I love the fact that summer is quickly approaching because it means that fruit is going to be in abundance again. My favorite fruit is any kind of berry, and berries are certainly better when there's a delicious crispy, crumbly, brown-sugary mixture on top. I was inspired to make this recipe when I saw blackberries on sale in my local grocery store. I think I'll end up eating this whole thing by myself. Enjoy!

Blackberry Crumble (an attempt to make it healthier)
Source: Me

2-6 oz. packages blackberries
2 T lemon juice
1 cup sugar or Splenda
1/4 cup wheat flour

1/2 cup wheat flour
3 T sugar
1/8 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 tsp. salt
scant 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 stick unsalted butter, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash berries and put them in a large bowl. Add lemon juice, sugar, and wheat flour. Toss to coat well. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes.

In a stand mixer bowl, combine wheat flour, sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and butter using the paddle attachment. Mix until the butter is the size of peas.

Pour the berries into the bottom of a glass baking dish (I used a deep 2-quart, but a square 8x8 would work, too). Press the crumble mixture together with your fingers to form large crumbles. Sprinkle over the berries and bake for 40-45 minutes until the tops are browned and the juices are bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature. Vanilla ice cream would be good with this, too!

I accidentally put my scoops on the plate in the shape of a heart!

It's not going to last long!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Easy Appetizer: Cheesy Ham Bites

The same night I made my 5-Minute Fudgy Brownies for some friends in our Sunday School class, I made these super quick and easy appetizers. I don't know why but I just love crescent rolls from the can. When we were growing up, and my mom would make them as a quick side dish with our meal, there'd be 8 of them in the bread basket and 4 of us at the table. My sister would always ask, "Now, how many have you had?" to each of us to make sure that we weren't taking any more than our allotted 2 crescent rolls. If one of us decided we just wanted one, she'd, of course, snatch the extra up as her third. Then, to make matters more annoying, she'd suddenly have to go to the bathroom when the table needed to be cleared and the dishes done. I would be stuck with doing everything and, magically, just as the last dish was getting dried she'd be done in the restroom. How lovely for her, right? I'm not bitter, really. But I digress. Everyone at dinner really enjoyed these little pockets of deliciousness and they were gobbled up almost as soon as they were on the platter...hence the lack of pictures beyond the baking sheet! Enjoy and try to snap a picture or two before your guests arrive and gobble the bad boys up!

Cheesy Ham Bites
Source: Me
Yields: a lot

2 packages crescent rolls
2 packages Carl Buddig cooked ham lunch meat
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
ketchup and mustard for dipping

Preheat oven to whatever it says on the can...probably 375. Cut each triangle of crescent roll dough into two so you end up having 32 small triangles (8 rolls per can, each cut into 2 for 16 triangles).

Chop up the lunch meat into small squares. Using your thumb and first two fingers, grab a small amount of ham and put it in the center of the crescent roll triangle; do the same with the cheese.

Fold the top corner towards you over the cheese, then fold the two side corners up over that.

Pinch the openings together so you have a fat little stuffed triangle. Arrange on your largest cookie sheet in nice, tidy rows (as opposed to chaotic rows like my sister would do). :-) Bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until crescent rolls are golden brown. Serve with a side of ketchup and mustard for dipping.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cookies with the Cousins

I have two wonderfully fun and witty cousins: Laura and Lacey. They are exact replicas of my sister and me--except they don't quite fight like the two of us did. My sister and I love each other to pieces, but we regularly say to each other that there is no way we could ever live together again. She's what you would call "carefree" in her cleaning, organization, and house-keeping, whereas I am what they call obsessive, neurotic, and picky. I'm working on those issues. I don't know how she does it, but as soon as my sister, Kim, walks into a room, EVERYTHING is out of place!! I can feel my blood start boiling now as I'm thinking about it. One shoe is on one side of the room, the other is on the couch, her purse and its contents are sprawled out on the table, her jacket is on the back of a chair, her sunglasses on the ground, the lamps broken, the couch cushions turned upside down, the rug rumpled, the pillows strewn hastily across the floor, the bookcase tipped over, and me in the fetal position in a corner somewhere while she noisily slams doors and asks me why my house is so dirty...

...okay, maybe it's not that bad, but she really is like a tornado. Just ask my mom.

Back to my cousins. They came over one day on our Easter Vacation from school and I showed them how to bake and decorate cookies. I relied on some previous knowledge gained when I made these cookies with Cooking in Cucamonga, and we ended up a blast together. We were supposed to scrap book, but we're planning that for another day. We made lunch about an hour into the process: Lil' Smokies wrapped in crescent rolls; they learned how to make this simple and quick lunch that I regularly take as appetizers to parties and plan on showing their mom how to do them too! The day was fun, but our cookie decorating took forever! I didn't realize how much longer things take with an 11- and 12-year old by your side! I have posted here just 3 of the 80 cookies we made and have provided you the link from where the recipes came. Enjoy and have fun with this!

From Annie's Eats:
Royal Icing and Royal Icing Tutorial

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kafta and Potatoes

If the title of this sounds familiar it's because I've posted something under this name once already. This is a completely different way of making Kafta and Potatoes, though, so bear with me! I really like it when Computer Man decides to take over dinner--I know, I've said that before, too. He usually does the grill or anything Lebanese which is fine with me since I don't have a huge desire to learn to cook Lebanese food. I know I probably should, but I just don't have the knack for it. It's something that's got to be "pure bread," if that makes any sense. So, again, I left it to him to put together this hot and savory dish that is definitely on his list of Comfort Food. My list looks much different, of course, but it's nice to get to taste some of the things his mom made so frequently since she's no longer with us to share those recipes. Luckily, she passed all her recipes down to one of her daughters, so Mario calls her up when he wants something. What's interesting, though, is that my mother-in-law NEVER told anyone her recipe for Falafel. She kept all of her recipes in a book--except the Falafel recipe--that one was in her head. When she passed away, someone in the family actually tried to steal that recipe book in hopes of finding that Falafel recipe; it was the big scandal of the week but everyone knew that no matter when no one could ever have that Falafel recipe. Crazy, right?! I hope you enjoy this comforting dish as much as we did, and know that it came from someone whose recipes were the envy of so many!

Kafta and Potatoes
the in-laws
Yields: 6-8 servings

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 punch curly parsley
1 large yellow onion
1 rounded spoonful of cinnamon
salt and pepper
4 small cans tomato sauce + 4 cans of water
5 Russet potatoes

Note: you need a large metal baking pan for this, larger than 9x13 (I think ours is 10x14 or's pretty big). If you don't have that big of a pan, and you don't want to feed the entire Lebanese army like this recipe does, just cut all the measurements in half and use a smaller pan.

Preheat oven to 400. Tear the parsley leaves off and put in a bowl. You'll want to do this ahead of time when you're sitting on the couch watching your favorite show. Cover with water and allow to soak for a couple of hours. When you're ready to prepare the dish, drain the parsley and transfer it to a food processor (if you have a small food processor do it in two batches). Rough chop the onion and add to the parsley. Process until very fine and well combined. Put the hamburger in a large bowl, season with salt, pepper, and the cinnamon. Add the parsley/onion mixture. Using your hands, mix together until just combined; don't over work the meat or it will be tough. Peel the potatoes and slice lengthwise. Put them in a large pot and cover with water. Boil until the potatoes are almost cooked the whole way through--they will finish cooking in the oven. Take half of the potatoes and line a large metal baking pan with them. Make about 10 patties out of the hamburger mixture; you want the patties to be about 3 inches in diameter. Lay the patties over the potatoes and then over the patties with the rest of the potatoes. Pour the tomato sauce and the water over the whole thing and bake uncovered in the oven for about an hour and a half. Remove from the oven, cover with foil, and transfer to the stove top so the pan is on a front and back burner. Turn each burner on to medium-high and allow the dish to come to a boil and cause the sauce to thicken--about another 30 minutes. Serve alongside a salad and pita bread. Enjoy!

I love that my new camera captures the steam rising from the dish! (This is after the sauce has thickened on the stove top.)

Ahh, yes, the ugly Corelle dish with the dusty pink and blue rose pattern. I told you that we always have to use these when we have Lebanese food.

I prefer more potatoes than meat, so I just take one patty.

Monday, April 12, 2010

5-Minute Fudgy Brownies

My mom is notorious for always having a Tupperware full of some sort of yummy baked good. In fact, one my bestestestestestest friends, Kalene, would spend the night at my house when we were kids so she could sample all the treats. She'd say things like, "I'm going to go rummage for some baked goods" at two or three in the morning when we should have been asleep. This recipe is especially important to me for a couple reasons. One, I had tried a bunch of brownie recipes in college only to find that they were all for those boring cake-like brownies; I was searching for the brownies that crackle on the top and are really dense and gooey. Two, these brownies are just about the ONLY dessert I make that my husband actually enjoys. He was obviously raised on a different planet: he thinks that plain fruit (no sugar, no whip cream, no nothing) is dessert and that cookies, cakes, and ice creams are too sweet. TOO SWEET? IS THAT EVEN A POSSIBILITY? So when he actually takes two of these brownies I am in heaven; I love it. We had some friends from our Sunday School class over one night and I served these up as a nice finisher to our tri-tip and baked potato dinner. I actually whipped them up while everyone was still sitting around the table just talking and taking the last swigs of their drinks. One of the husbands actually asked me if the brownies were homemade--he had no clue that I was making brownies because these are so quick and easy to "throw together." Enjoy!

5-Minute Fudgy Brownies
Me and Mom
Yields: 1 9x13 4 brownies? Ha!

3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2/3 cup veg. oil
1/2 cup boiling water (exact)
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350. Stir cocoa and baking soda together in the bottom of a mixing bowl on your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add in 1/3 cup of the oil and the boiling water and stir until the mixture thickens. Add in the sugar, eggs, and remaining 1/3 cup of oil. Stir until smooth. Add flour, vanilla, and salt, and blend completely. Pour into a thoroughly greased 9x13 metal baking pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the sides of the brownies pull away from the edge of the pan. Don't over bake. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla bean, chocolate, mint chip, or neapolitan ice cream.

I didn't cut the brownies to show you the inside, but I did poke a hole so you can see how nicely they crack on the top!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Peach Dump Cake (plus a variation)

Let me tell you about Summer. No, she does NOT have a sister named Winter, Spring, or Fall, so don't ask...she doesn't think it's funny, and, as her right-hand woman, neither do I. Summer and I met in college--Azusa Pacific University (go, Cougars!). We weren't roommates, but we were brought together by a mutual friend. It was one of those "Oh-my-gosh-I-think-this-is-my-long-lost-sister" moments; we immediately clicked and were, from our freshman year, totally inseparable. She's one of those friends that you can go weeks without talking to and then pick right up where you left off. We used to get together every Wednesday night and cook and bake for her mom and sister. We make a pretty great team: I do the majority of the cooking while she does all the baking. Today, almost 10 years later, we still get together and laugh till the cows come home. One last-minute invitation on a Thursday afternoon convinced Summer and her boyfriend, Zak, to swing by our place the next night. I grabbed a pizza and salad from Costco and she brought over this dessert. We, of course, laughed till we cried while the boys sat on the couch marveling at some new techy gadget...weirdos. We enjoyed this peach cake right out of the oven and found that not one of the flavors was too over-powering than another. I have provided a variation of this recipe below. Enjoy!

Peach Dump Cake
Source: Summer, originally called Peach Crunch Cake at Bakerella

24.5 oz jar of sliced peaches in light syrup
1 package yellow cake mix
1 stick butter (1/2 cup), cut into 16 pieces
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional, we didn't use them)
your favorite vanilla or vanilla bean ice cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Layer ingredients in a 9x13 dish, in the order written above starting with the peaches. Bake for about 40 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla/vanilla bean ice cream.

Variation from my grandma: Cherry Dump Cake
1 large can of Comstock cherry pie filling
1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cut into squares

Preheat oven to 350. Layer ingredients in an 8x11 glass baking dish, starting with the cherries, then the cake, then the butter. Bake until the cake is golden, probably 30-40 minutes. Serve with whip cream or vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Creamy Chicken Pockets

I try my best to not stand in front of the cupboard yelling, "We have nothing to eat!" when, in reality, the shelves are teeming with food that could, in the words of my mom, be "thrown together." Once I feel like the canned goods have received enough of my ranting, I move onto the various items in the refrigerator, and--if I'm feeling especially daring--I open the fridge and the freezer at the same time only to yell twice as loud that all those pieces of frozen meat are just too, well, frozen or that all those veggies in the crisper drawer won't cut themselves. Then I slam both doors, return to the couch next to my husband who looks at me and says, "So, what's for dinner?" Of course that completely pushes me over the proverbial ledge and I tell him we're going out to Mexican food--only because that's his least favorite and I don't want to cook. Being the good husband he is, he just says, "No, Dear, we're not." Ugh. I guess now I have to get up and find something to make. And then, upon second, third, or twentieth glance in the cupboard and fridge, angels descend from heaven singing the Hallelujah chorus and it's as if things just make sense; I understand the whole "thrown together" thing that my mom does so effortlessly. That, my friends, is the process behind these Chicken pockets. I have provided you with the ingredients so that you don't have to go through the same ranting process that I did. Enjoy! :)

Creamy Chicken Pockets
Me and the angels from heaven
Yields: 4 pockets

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 packages of crescent rolls (for a total of 16 crescents)
1 cup milk
3/4 cup water you cooked the chicken in
1 cup frozen peas (or frozen vegetable medley)
1/2 onion, chopped OR 1 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
3 T butter
3 T flour
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to whatever it says on the crescent rolls package; it's usually 375. Put the chicken breasts in a large pot and cover with water; bring to a boil and allow chicken to cook completely. When the chicken is done, leave it in the hot water; do not drain. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the chopped onions and peas (note: if you're using onion powder, don't add that in yet). Once the onions are translucent (or when the peas are semi-tender), add in the flour, garlic powder (and onion powder if you didn't use the chopped onions). Combine the flour, butter, and onions well; allow to cook for just a couple of minutes so the flour taste goes away. Add in the milk and the chicken water; stir to combine, and allow to thicken on medium-low heat. You can now take the chicken breasts out of the water and shred or chop them up. Add them to the milk mixture and turn the heat up to medium-high to make sure everything is well heated and combined together; stir for about 2 minutes. Turn the heat off. Take the crescent rolls out and put two of the triangles together to form one square on your largest cookie sheet; do this until you have 8 squares. Spoon enough chicken mixture onto 1 of the crescent roll squares, leaving about 1/2 inch border; quickly top with 1 of the crescent squares pressing tightly to seal around the edge. Repeat for the remaining crescent squares. Bake until the crescents are golden brown. Enjoy with a simple green salad!


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