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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cranberry Pecan Chopped Autumn Salad

So last night, it was just the babies and me at home.  No hubby.  No big kids.  A quiet night to play, with no practices to shuttle to, no big production of a meal.  So I grabbed a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket (one of my favorite "go to" pick up items).  Its much healthier than picking up fast food, feeds more people, and cost less.  For them, of course they wanted something "toddler'ish" to go with the chicken, like buttered noodles with grated Parm and basil.  For me, I turned some of that rotisserie chicken into a lovely and satisfying autumn salad - (and then I ate their left over pasta.  Shame shame shame.  Pasta will probably be my downfall.) Anyway, I digress...  

This salad is a very nutritionally balanced dish.  We have the fruits and veggies category covered, proteins in the nuts and meat, and dairy from the feta.  As a flavor and mouth-feel description, that translates to crunchy bright lettuce, sweet caramel flavor of the glazed nuts, creamy and tangy feta, crisp sweet brightness of the pears, smoky bacon and savory chicken, and little pops of sweetness from the cranberries.  - can I get an "Amen?!"
Ingredients:
I made only one portion, but here are the ingredients to feed about 4 people, using this as a main course.
  • 6 - 8 cups chopped romaine lettuce blend (with carrots and purple cabbage)
  • 2 medium pears, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (craisons)
  • 1 cup chopped glazed pecans
  • 8 slices of good smokey bacon, crisp-cooked and chopped
  • 4 - 6 oz tomato basil crumbled feta cheese
  • poppy seed salad dressing
  • balsamic vinaigrette
  • rotisserie chicken, torn into bite sized pieces
Method:
So basically, you throw all the stuff together and enjoy!  In a large salad bowl (or individual plates), combine the lettuce, pears, cranberries, pecans, bacon, and feta cheese.  Tear the rotisserie chicken and add on top.  I actually mixed the poppy seed dressing WITH the balsamic vinaigrette first, then drizzled them generously on top. I probably used a 2:1 ration of poppy seed to balsamic dressing.  Toss and enjoy!

You have just had a generous serving of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, oleic acids (an essential monounsaturated fatty acid), antioxidants, protein and goodness!  Now you can go eat some pasta! :-)
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Monday, February 27, 2012

Homage to Alice Springs Chicken


I know MANY people who regularly order the Alice Springs Chicken at Outback Steakhouse.  I'm one of those repeat offenders! - but oh my goodness, to load up a carload of kids, wait for a table, wait to order, wait for the food, wait wait wait, just about kills my urge entirely.  This is a really easy dish to do at home, and can be made ahead of time up to the point of popping it into the oven, and you probably have all the ingredients on hand already! Oh... and the other perks?  For one, I can betcha it's a lot less expensive! Secondly, at home I don't have to work so hard at resisting the "other" stuff - like the free bread, etc.

  • 6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
  • McCormick Season All, seasoning salt
  • 6 -7 slices maple flavored bacon, crisped up with the bacon fat reserved
  • ¼ cup yellow mustard
  • ¼ to 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp dried minced onion flakes
  • 3 large fresh mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
  • 2 - 3 cups shredded Colby/Jack cheese
Step-by-Step: 
Trim the chicken of all extra fat.  Pat them dry. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with seasoning salt.  Allow the seasoning to "marinate" on the chicken in a cool spot for 30 - 50 minutes.
Tip: To get a good sear on your meat, it needs to be dry!
Cook the maple bacon in a large skillet until crisp.  Remove bacon, but SAVE the grease.   
Yes of course you can use regular flavored bacon.  I just feel that the maple flavored bacon brings one more element of complexity to the taste of the dish... and my kids love it!
At this point, maybe you could hide the bacon.  I STARTED with these seven pieces, but once that maple flavored bacon smell started permeating the house, there were kids coming out of the walls grabbing pieces out of my drying plate.

Saute chicken in the bacon grease until browned on each side.  They will NOT be cooked through yet. Move chicken to a 9×13 pan.


In a small bowl, mix the honey, mustard, mayo and dried onion flakes.  Yes, this sounds like an odd combination.  It works, though.  Trust me.
Mom tip: One of my kids has suffered with really bad seasonal allergies all his life. If this is relevant in your house, try to buy "local" honey.  The bees will have made the honey from the pollen in YOUR area, giving you somewhat of an immune boosting perk to the local honey. See Food Nerd Notes below recipe.


One of our afternoon "nap time" promises is that of 'You can help me cook dinner when you wake up.' Hey - whatever works to keep things on schedule and keep the peace at your house is fair game! And believe me, this one does NOT forget that when she wakes up.  Always the willing kitchen helper.
Apply the honey mustard to each breast.
Remember - there is always some elements of cooking that your kids can help with.  They learn very quickly.. gain valuable techniques, a love of cooking, and you can't put a price on the quality time.

Layer with mushrooms, bacon, and shredded cheese.

Notice I have my instant read, digital thermometer sticking in one of the breasts.

 
Bake in a 350° oven for 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and chicken is done.

I'm not a big fan of guessing, so I actually prefer to use an instant read, digital thermometer.  Cook until the thermometer reads 160 degrees in the thickest part of a chicken breasts.  This ensures that you will have a cooked, but juicy chicken breast.  No cutting into a raw chicken.  No overdone, leathery, dry chicken for your family.

If you'd like, serve with honey mustard sauce.


Let's see which "easy cooking at home" points we have covered....  
  • FABulous, delicious meal
  • Total control of ingredients and quality of ingredients
  • Way less expensive (like 6 of these meals for probably less than the price of 2 restaurant meals)
  • The comforts of home... everyone else can go about their business (work, baseball practice, visiting with friends, riding bikes, playing cars on the floor...) while you cook... rather than sitting at the table trying to entertain them in the restaurant
  •  Priceless teaching moments and quality time with the ones that want to help out...
Now enjoy! :-)

I hope you enjoyed this recipe!   Visit my Recipe Index to see what else I've been cooking up for ya!

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Here are some bonus recipes for you.
Tomato Basil Chicken

Cajun Crawfish Bread

Beefy Crunch Wrap Supremes

Rosemary No-Knead Black Pepper Artison Bread

Home Made Corn Dogs 
Strawberry Vanilla Bean Pancake Sauce

Written Method:
Trim the chicken of all extra fat.  Pat them dry. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with seasoning salt.  Allow the seasoning to "marinate" on the chicken in a cool spot for 30 - 50 minutes.  Cook the maple bacon in a large skillet until crisp.  Remove bacon, but SAVE the grease.  Saute chicken in the bacon grease until browned on each side.  They will NOT be cooked through yet. Move chicken to a 9×13 pan.

In a small bowl, mix the honey, mustard, mayo and dried onion flakes.  Apply the honey mustard to each breast.  Layer with mushrooms, bacon, and shredded cheese.  Bake in a 350° oven for 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and chicken is done.  Cook until the thermometer reads 160 degrees in the thickest part of a chicken breasts.  This ensures that you will have a cooked, but juicy chicken breast. The chicken temp should continue to rise to 165 while the chicken 'rests.'

Food Nerd Notes:
Health benefits of local honey. The medicinal benefits of honey and pollen and beeswax have been recognized since the time of the Greeks. It has anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties. For this reason it has been applied topically to treat burns since the beginning of history.

Local honey can provide relief from seasonable allergies. Consider the logic: the bees are collecting nectar from the very plants that are making you sneeze and sniffle, and so with honey you can ingest minute amounts of the very allergen that is troubling you. Honey has also been found to be especially useful in treating upper respiratory infections. A study at Penn State College of Medicine in 2007 found that a small dose of buckwheat honey was more effective than an over-the-counter cough treatment for children.

It’s a natural, temporary energy booster. According to the National Honey Board, it “contains small amounts of a wide array of vitamins and minerals, including niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.”

Honey is also rich in powerful antioxidants and cancer-fighting phytonutrients, which can be found in the propolis, or "honey glue" that the bees use to sterilize the beehive. Raw honey contains some of these compounds while pasteurized honey does not.
In its natural, raw state, honey contains many enzymes that can help some people digest food more easily so it may also help treat ulcers and diarrhea.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hot and Creamy Spinach Artichoke Dip

This is not my normal eating habit, but last night I just wanted to sit on the couch and munch while watching the Grammy Awards.  I'm not an advocate for this type of mindless munching, but very occasionally, it can be nice. One of my favorite appetizers is spinach artichoke dip. It has color, texture, flavor, creaminess, and complexity - many of the elements I prize in a dish.  That said, sometimes when you order it, it can be bland and unexciting.  

What is really nice about cooking for yourself, is that you get to push the limits of the "norm" and make the dish a little more "razzle dazzle" than you've had it before.  What distinguishes this recipe from others I've tasted is a little more garlic and heat than some, and the addition of some chopped sun dried tomatoes - which give it not only more color, but the unexpected tangy sweetness that compliments the velvety creaminess that you are used to.

It's an extremely easy recipe - just combine and bake, and could easily be made ahead of time and popped into the oven just before you need it.  The other thing I kept thinking of while I was eating it, is how great this would be as a filling for stuffed chicken breasts.  Mmmm..

                                                    Click for Printable Recipe
Ingredients:                        
8 oz reduced fat cream cheese
1/4 cup reduced fat mayo
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 can drained artichoke hearts in water, chopped
1 package of frozen spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed 
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Tbsp sun dried tomatoes, chopped
kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste
crushed red pepper to taste (about 1 tsp)

Step-by-Step:
Thaw frozen spinach in the microwave (3 - 4 minutes) and drain... you'll still have to squeeze the liquid out, but this will give it a head start.
1 pkg of thawed frozen spinach
Combine softened cream cheese and mayo in a large bowl.
8 oz reduced fat cream cheese; 1/4 cup reduced fat mayo.
Add the freshly grated Parmesan.  Please do not use that fake stuff in the can. You must start with great ingredients if you are going to have a great product!
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Add the grated mozzarella.
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese.
Chop and add the garlic.
4 cloves, chopped garlic.
Season with salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper.
kosher salt
black pepper
crushed red pepper flakes
Chop and add the sun dried tomatoes.
3 Tbsp chopped sun dried tomatoes
Wrap the spinach in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze all the liquid out of it that you possibly can.  Yes, it will end up looking like the cud of a cow... which looks pretty gross, but it will taste great - and you do not want all that liquid in the dip.  Break up the spinach and add it to the mix.
squeezed out spinach
Drain the artichokes.
1 can artichoke hearts
Chop them as fine or coarse as you would like them.  This will determine the final texture.
chopped artichoke hearts
Round out the dip with the sour cream.
1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
Combine... taste.... taste... taste.. And while you still have some, add the dip to a casserole dish that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray/
mix and adjust seasonings
add to casserole dish
Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.  It will be lightly browned and bubbly around the edges.  
 

I served this with pita chips, but feel free to use whatever - bread chunks, crackers, chips, snow peas, pepper strips, etc.
Eat!
Delicious! - now hurry up and share with your neighbors.  This is my personal strategy for not sitting here and eating the whole casserole dish full!

Method:
Thaw frozen spinach in the microwave (3 - 4 minutes) and drain... you'll still have to squeeze the liquid out, but this will give it a head start.  Combine softened cream cheese and mayo in a large bowl.  Add the freshly grated Parmesan. Add the grated mozzarella.  Chop and add the garlic. Season with salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper. Chop and add the sun dried tomatoes.

Wrap the spinach in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze all the liquid out of it that you possibly can.  Break up the spinach and add it to the mix. Drain the artichokes. Chop them as fine or coarse as you would like them.  This will determine the final texture. Round out the dip with the sour cream.

Combine, adjust seasonings, then add the dip to a casserole dish that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.  It will be lightly browned and bubbly around the edges.  


Looking for more recipes?
Please visit my Recipe Index for tons of great recipes to cook for/with your family!  Some things are made from leftovers to stretch your budget, others are totally from scratch, while others make use of convenience items for a semi-homemade meal.  I also have a wide array of ethnic recipes represented.  Here are a few to pique your curiosity:

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