Friday, April 30, 2010

No-Bake Strawberry Lime Cheesecake



I wanted to call this a margarita pie, but there isn't any tequila..and let's face it, a margarita with no tequila is just a lime slushy.

So, I started out with a no-bake cheesecake recipe from Gina's Weight Watcher Recipes , which is seriously my favorite food blog right now. I obsessively check it to see if she has posted anything new. I've made a TON of things from it and they have all been phenomenal.

The original cheesecake was really good, but my husband isn't a huge fan of cream cheese (I have yet to figure out what planet he is from) so I knew that if I was going to make something that he would be excited about eating (read: I wouldn't have to eat the entire thing) I would have to jazz it up a bit. The end result was tangy and refreshing. It retained that creamy quality that I loved about the original, but had enough other flavors going on that it didn't overwhelm your mouth.

I think I just drooled a bit writing that. It is so, so good.

Strawberry-Lime No-Bake Cheesecake
Adapted from Gina's Weight Watcher Recipes
serves 8

8 oz. Cool-Whip Free (or whip your own heavy cream to stiff peaks, it won't be WW friendly this way)
8 oz. neufchatel cheese (1/3 less fat cream cheese), softened
9-inch reduced fat graham cracker pie crust (or make your own from the recipe here and just use Reduced Fat graham crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
zest from one lime
10 medium strawberries, hulled and halved

The easiest way to make this is in a food processor. I will include a blender/hand mixer version as well.

In the bowl of your food processor with the S blade, add the neufchatel cheese, Cool-Whip, sugar and lime juice. Pulse until just blended. Add the lime zest and strawberries. Pulse until blended and smooth. Don't worry if there are some small chunks of strawberry, they end up being little surprises in each slice.

Spoon mixture into pie crust, cover and chill for at least 2 hours.

If you don't have a food processor, it is still easy, but just takes a few more steps. Add strawberries to blender with just enough water to get it moving. Pulse until smooth.

In a large bowl put cream cheese, Cool-Whip, sugar and lime juice. Whip with a hand mixer until fluffy. Fold in lime zest and strawberries. Continue as written.

 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sweet and Savory Citrus Chicken Fingers



Oh, these are excellent. I wasn't paying attention one day and bought chicken fingers instead of chicken breasts. Instead of just using them instead, I thought I would make something special with them. They were a hit for lunch. They also froze really well, and were fast and easy to reheat later.

Sweet and Savory Citrus Chicken Fingers
makes about 20 strips

For marinade:
1/2 cup orange juice marinade
4 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of crushed red pepper flake

1 1/2 lbs. chicken breast tenderloins, or chicken breasts sliced lengthwise into strips

For coating:
5 cups frosted flake cereal
3/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut (if using sweetened, omit brown sugar)
1 T. light brown sugar
1/2 T. curry powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Toss the chicken together with the orange juice concentrate, garlic and crushed red pepper.



In a small bowl, beat the eggs.

In a large bowl, combine the frosted flake crumbs, coconut, brown sugar, curry powder. Before beginning, set aside half the frosted flake mixture.

Dip the chicken into the egg and then into the crumb mixture. Place coated chicken on a greased, or parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat, adding more crumb mixture as needed.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until crispy and baked through.

To freeze: bake, and then flash freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet. When frozen, place into a freezer bag. To reheat, either microwave or bake until warm.

Cow Pie Cookies

These cookies look disgusting...but are so, so tasty. Ooey gooey and filled with chocolatey, coconutey, peanut buttery goodness. I could eat them all day. Thankfully C1 loves to make them for me. As yummy as they are, the absolute BEST part about them is that they are no-bake and only dirty one pot. Talk about convenient. They do take a bit of time in the refrigerator or freezer though, so plan accordingly. I recommend having them on hand at all times in case that craving hits. My son can do most of this recipe himself with supervision.



Cow Pie Cookies
makes 20 cookies

4 Tablespoons butter or margarine
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup chunky peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup sweetened, dried coconut flakes

Combine butter, brown sugar, cocoa powder and milk in a large saucepan (large enough to hold all of the oats and such). Bring to a boil and keep at a boil for 3 minutes or until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla, peanut butter, oats and coconut. Drop in large spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or freeze for 2. Keep cool as they start to melt when they get warm.

Pizza Pockets

It is embarrassing to look at the date of my last post. Life sure has a way of getting in the way of blogging sometimes (those kids, man, they sure like to hang around!) We've also started our first year homeschooling. Factor in a one year old who will just not.sit.still.ever. and a husband in law school, it all adds up to a mama who doesn't have much motivation to sit and blog. Cooking has been more about sustenance than art.

I have missed it. Cooking gives me an outlet, and blogging gives me even more of one. There is something about having some good music on, a glass of wine and a big knife that I just adore.

So, Dear Readers....or probably more like Reader, let us get to it! I have so much that I want to share with you and so many recipes that I've been dying to make.

--

This is my 3-year old's favorite thing in the entire world. The possibilities are endless with the different fillings. My favorite is a chicken, spinach and fresh mozzarella version while my sons like the basic pepperoni, sauce and cheese version.

Everyone has their own favorite pizza dough recipe. I make mine in the bread maker for ease and consistency.


Crusty Pizza Dough
adapted from The Bread Machine Cookbook

1 1/3 cups water
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp. salt
2 cups bread flour
2 cups whole wheat flour (I like stone ground)
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 tsp. yeast

Add ingredients in order given to bread machine pan. Start dough cycle.




Pull off small balls, just enough to fit in the palm of your hand and roll into a circle about 6 inches in diameter.



Add 1 T. of your favorite marinara or pizza sauce - jarred is fine. I've also used pesto and alfredo sauce before with wonderful results. Let your imagination work on this one.



Add 1 T. of cheese. The pictures show a plain, pepperoni pizza pocket. I've used a mozzarella, but shredded it myself because I find that it just melts better. If I am feeling particularly decadent, I will go for fresh mozzarella and Parmesan. oh my yum.



Now is where you can really let your imagination flow. Fill it with whatever you like on your pizzas. Olives, vegetables, chicken, ham, pepperoni, sausage....just remember that you have to seal the pizza pocket after you are done filling, so don't go too crazy. I've opted for simply pepperoni in this one, but my favorite includes cooked chicken, some fresh baby spinach, a basil leaf and fresh Parmesan.

After you are finished filling it, fold it in half and seal the edges with a fork.



Place sealed pockets on a baking sheet. Make sure your oven is preheated to 400 degrees and bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden and crispy. The seals will most likely break open a bit and spill some filling out, but they are still really tasty.




These are great for cooking with kids. My 3-year old can make these almost by himself. He loves to put the filling in and seal them up.

I usually serve them with extra pizza sauce for dunking.

Quick and Easy Mandarin Mu Shu Pork

In the name of time, I decided to forgo making mandarin pancakes and used flour tortillas instead. It made for a quick and easy dinner perfect for busy weeknights.



They are very flavorful and the use of pork tenderloin leaves them low in fat. Skip the tortillas and they are low in carbs as well.

Quick and Easy Mandarin Mu Shu Pork
serves 6

12 8-inch flour tortillas
6 T. reduced sodium soy sauce
2 T. corn starch
1.5 lbs. pork tenderloin
2 tsp. cooking oil
1 tsp. hot chili oil OR crushed red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups packaged, shredded cabbage with carrot (coleslaw mix)
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1/2 cup sliced green onions
plum sauce to serve

Wrap tortillas tightly in foil. Heat in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until warm and soft.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl stir together the soy sauce and cornstarch. Trim fat from meat. Cut meat into bite-size strips. Add the meat to the soy mixture; toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Pour cooking oil and chili oil or crushed red pepper into a medium skillet. Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Stir-fry meat and garlic in hot oil for 1 minute. Add 1 cup of cabbage, the sprouts, and green onions. Stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until meat is slightly pink in the center and vegetables are crisp tender. Remove from heat.

Place the remaining cabbage in the centers of the tortillas. Spoon the pork mixture over the cabbage. Roll up burrito style. Serve with the plum sauce.

Indian Butter Chicken - Lightened

Ah. Butter Chicken. Spicy, rich, flavorful...fattening.

My jeans have been fitting better lately, and I would like to keep it that way. After The Husband and I went to an Indian restaurant, I've been having a craving for Butter Chicken but have been too scared about botching my diet to make it. I decided to give in...but experiment a little.

The result was just as creamy and flavorful as the original, and about 600 calories per serving lighter. That is something I can work with!

I served with coconut basmati rice to combat the spice of the chicken.

Indian Butter Chicken - Lightened!
serves 4

1/4 cup butter, divided
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 can evaporated skim milk
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. garam masala

1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized chunks
1 T. vegetable oil
2 T. tandoori masala (if you cannot find this, substitute hot curry powder)

cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 375.

In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Stir in onion and cook slowly until caramelized. Add in garlic and cook for one minute longer. Remove from pan and set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in a large skillet along with tomato sauce, evaporated milk, cayenne pepper, salt and garam masala. Bring to a simmer (do not let it boil, the milk will break), then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in caramelized onions.

While the sauce is simmering, toss cubed chicken with vegetable oil and spread on a large baking sheet. Season with tandoori masala (or curry powder). Bake until no longer pink in the center, about 12 minutes. Once done, add the chicken to the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes longer.

Garnish with cilantro.

Chicken Marsala

It is that time of year again. Time for short days and brisk evenings. Time for hearty, full-flavored foods.

The star in this chicken marsala is the mushrooms. Slowly simmered in the marsala until they soak up every last bit of flavor. I could eat a plate of them by themselves.

The chicken stays moist and falls apart at the touch of a fork. No knives necessary.

With this recipe, err on the side of caution and make more than you think you should. It will be eaten.



Chicken Marsala
serves 6

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 T. olive oil
3 T. salted butter
1 onion, sliced thin
1 lb. white mushrooms, sliced thin
1/2 cup marsala wine -- use real marsala wine for the best flavor, avoid the cooking wine. The differences of flavor are inexplicable.
1 cup chicken stock
minced fresh parsley for garnish

Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. In a large heavy skillet heat oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons butter over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown chicken in 2 batches, transferring with tongs to a large plate as browned.

Discard all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet and sauté onion and mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated. Add Marsala and cook mixture, stirring, until Marsala is almost evaporated. Add broth and chicken with any juices that have accumulated on plate and simmer, turning chicken once, until cooked through, about 15 minutes. Transfer chicken with tongs to a platter.

Simmer mushroom sauce until liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup. Remove skillet from heat and stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter and salt and pepper to taste, stirring until butter is just incorporated. Spoon mushroom sauce around chicken and sprinkle with parsley.

Asian Lettuce Cups

I've been on an Asian bender lately. Bulgogi, curries, you name it, I've made it. I've made some great recipes and some not so great ones. This stood out - it is easy, quick and flavorful.



My family eats these up like nobody's business. It is also great cold for lunch the next day.

Asian Lettuce Cups
adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen
serves 6-8

1 T. vegetable oil
3 T. minced shallots or red onion
2 T. minced garlic (3-4 cloves)
2 T. fresh ginger, grated (I keep my ginger, peeled, in the freezer and then just grate what I need)
2 lbs. ground turkey (all white meat is preferable)
4 T. soy sauce, low sodium
1 T. sriracha, or other chile-garlic sauce
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 small can water chestnuts, chopped
1/3 cup chopped peanuts
1 large head or 2 small heads butter lettuce (iceberg works too, but is harder to eat)



Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large saute pan. Add onions and cook for 2 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute more.

Add ground turkey to the pan, break apart and spread out with a wooden spoon. Add soy sauce and sriracha. Cook until turkey is browned and cooked through - about 5 minutes.

After turkey is cooked, add water chestnuts and chopped cilantro. Cook 1 to 2 minutes longer.



Serve turkey filling and lettuce leaves in separate bowls. To eat, fill lettuce leaves with turkey filling and sprinkle with peanuts.

I served this with roasted carrots and wheat berries

Coconut Pineapple Cream Tart

This got a resounding "WOW!" from my husband and son. The last bits were eaten over the sink before bed with the knife used to cut it.



The original recipe called for shortening in the crust. Shortening in pie crusts is the way to go. I know butter would seem like the best choice, but shortening produces the flakiest, most flavorful crust. That being said, I used butter simply because I did not have the shortening on hand. Boy, it was a flavorful crust. It tasted like a shortbread cookie, and while it wasn't as flaky as shortening would have been the flavor worked well with the filling.




Coconut Pineapple Tart
adapted from Cooking Light
serves 8

Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
3 T. ice water
2 T. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter, cut into small chunks

Filling:
1 8 oz. can crushed pineapple in pineapple juice, drained and juice reserved
1/4 cup sugar
1 T. cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 T. cream of coconut
1/4 tsp. coconut extract
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 carton whipping cream
2 T. sugar
1/4 cup flaked, sweetened coconut, toasted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

To prepare crust, lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 1/4 cup flour and water; stir with a whisk until slurry is blended.

Combine 3/4 cup flour, 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add slurry; mix with a fork until flour mixture is moist.

Press mixture gently into a 4-inch circle on heavy-duty plastic wrap, and cover with additional plastic wrap. Roll dough, still covered, into a 12-inche circle. Freeze ten minutes.

Remove one sheet of plastic wrap, and fit dough into a 9-inch tart pan coated with cooking spray. Remove top sheet of plastic wrap. Cut excess dough off edges of tart pan. Line dough with aluminum foil and arrange pie weights or dried beans on foil. Bake at 425 degrees for 14 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove pie weights and foil from crust; cool crust on a wire rack.

To prepare filling: put pineapple, reserved juice, 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon cornstarch in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-high until thickened. Spoon into prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour until set.

In a saucepan, combine 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add milk and bring to a slow boil. Cook one minute, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add about 1/3 hot custard to beaten eggs, stirring constantly with a whisk. Return egg mixture to pan. Cook two minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove mixture from heat; stir in cream of coconut and extracts. Spoon mixture on top of pineapple mixture. Cover surface of filling with plastic wrap and chill until set (about two hours).

In a large bowl, beat whipping cream and sugar until firm peaks form. Spread evenly over filling.

Sprinkle with toasted coconut.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

While I do make meat lasagna once in awhile, this is my go-to recipe. It is light and doesn't require running 10k afterward just so you can fit into your pants in the morning.



Preparing the eggplant is the key to this being a really great lasagna. The bigger the lasagna, the more crucial this step. The bigger an eggplant gets, the more bitter the seeds become. Preparing it takes most of the bitter liquid out of the seeds and instead of the eggplant slices getting mushy, they stand up to the roasting and have more of the consistency of lasagna noodles.

Feel free to include whatever vegetables you have lying around. I've used broccoli, fresh and frozen spinach, fresh tomatoes, green beans, etc.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
Serves 8

1 large eggplant, cut vertically into 10 slices
salt

2 zucchini, diced
1 yellow squash, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 pound white mushrooms, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
1/3 cup fresh basil, chiffonaded
2 T. olive oil
1 large (32 oz.) can whole tomatoes
3 T. tomato paste (I use concentrated tomato paste in a tube)
1 t. sugar
salt and pepper to taste

2 cups low fat cottage cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 T. dried basil
2 T. dried parsley
1 t. fresh cracked black pepper

2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

Prepare the eggplant by salting liberally after slicing. Wait 20-30 minutes until all of the excess moisture is drawn from the slices. Rinse with water and pat dry.



Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put vegetables onto a roasting pan and toss with 1 T. olive oil. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Set aside. Roast eggplant slices on another baking sheet at the same time.

While vegetables are roasting, heat 1 T. olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, sugar, parsley and basil. Stir occasionally until the tomatoes are broken down and heated thoroughly. Stir the roasted vegetables into the tomato sauce. Adjust flavors (you may need to add a bit more sugar if it is too acidic, or salt if it needs more flavor).

Combine the cottage cheese, egg, Parmesan cheese, pepper, parsley and basil. Make sure egg is thoroughly mixed.

Assemble by putting down a few spoonfuls of the sauce mixture on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Lay 5 slices of eggplant side by side. Cover with half the cheese mixture. Top with half of the sauce. Cover with 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers once more, ending with shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Breakfast on a Stick!

We are missing the Minnesota State Fair this year. Boo-hoo. In honor of it, I made Breakfast On A Stick for a special weekend brunch.


On a whim, I bought a giant box of french toast sticks at Sam's Club. The thing about Sam's, I never think about how I'm going to store the giant boxes when I get home. The french toast sticks took up three quarters of my freezer space. I only had space for ice. Instead of eating all of the chicken and steaks in one day, I decided to use up a bunch of the french toast sticks and this was a great way to do so.





My son enjoyed it because it could be served and eaten in front of Curious George. Anything that doesn't take him away from cartoons is a big hit in his book. It was also sweet enough that it didn't need to be dipped, although I served it with both applesauce and real maple syrup.

French Toast and Fruit Skewers
serves 4

30 french toast sticks or 6 pieces of french toast cut into 5 pieces, cut those sticks into thirds
fresh fruit (I used grapes, bananas, raspberries and granny smith apples)
wooden skewers, halved

Cut or break skewers in half.

alternate pieces of french toast with pieces of fruit.

Serve with apple sauce and/or syrup for dipping. Jam would be good as well!



big hit!

The Most Basic Chicken Salad: Improved

With Summer in Louisiana dragging on like it tends to do most days call for light, cool recipes. Chicken salad is a favorite around here. I tend to make tons of different variations hoping for something better, but I always come back to this recipe. I was supposed to take a pretty picture...but it was eaten before I could. It is that good.



This is what was left after Dr. hubs and C1 had their way with it.

I use a rotisserie chicken because it is easy. If you are in the mood and don't mind heating up the house, don't hesitate to roast some chicken breasts or hell, even a whole chicken! Don't say it took too long, though, because I churn this thing out in 5 minutes flat.

Curried Chicken Salad
serves 4

1 rotisserie chicken, any flavor
1 15 oz. can mandarin oranges
15 grapes, halved
1/4 cup chopped nuts (I tend to favor almonds, but cashews and pecans are both excellent)
2 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise (use the real stuff)
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
1 1/2 tsp. brown sugar
2 t. parsley (don't measure, just throw some in)
salt and pepper to taste

Begin by pulling all the meat off of the chicken. Use only the white meat or a combination of white and dark. Throw the carcass in the freezer for stock.

Add chicken, oranges, grapes, nuts, and celery to a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, combine mayonnaise, curry powder, brown sugar, parsley, salt and pepper. Add mayonnaise mixture to chicken mixture. Combine and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (a few hours is best).

I like to have it on toasted whole grain bread, dressed with spinach and honey mustard.

Spicy Chicken Caesar Sandwiches



Talk about a satisfying sandwich! This sandwich is based on a Cajun Chicken Caesar Sandwich recipe from Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely. I love her cookbook. It was a Christmas gift from my Sister-in-law and I've used it religiously ever since. So much so that it is falling apart at the seams and I'm considering ditching the duct tape and having it rebound.

Spicy Chicken Caesar Sandwiches
serves 6

3 large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 T. cumin
1 T. chipotle chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. dried oregano (preferably mexican, but regular will do)
1 tsp. sucanat (crystallized sugar cane juice - if you don't have this, substitute an equal amount of brown sugar)
1/4 lb. peppered thick cut bacon, cooked
caesar dressing (use bottled or make your own - it doesn't make a lot of difference in this recipe)
romaine lettuce
Parmesan cheese
tomatoes (optional)
6 hoagie buns
3 T. butter
Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the cumin, chili powder, oregano, garlic and onion powders and sucanat - rub on chicken breasts. Place on a baking sheet and roast until no longer pink and juices run clear - approximately 25-30 minutes.

Cut hoagie buns and slather 1/2 T of butter on the cut sides. Sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese on top of the butter and place cut side up in the oven until toasted - 5-6 minutes.

When the chicken is finished roasting, slice and assemble the sandwich. Spread some Caesar dressing on the toasted sides of the bun. Place a few slices of tomato and some lettuce on a bun, top with a slice or two of bacon and a few slices of chicken. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese and serve.

I served this with fresh tomato slices and roasted red potatoes.




Kids Choice Night: Taco Stuffed Shells

Tonight was my 3 year old son, C1's turn to choose what we had for dinner. It was a mighty big leap of faith to let him choose - there is no telling what we will end up having. Last time I let him choose, he wanted toothpaste and toddler vitamins. I'm sure it would have tasted fantastic. When he chooses real food, it is almost always mexican - or spaghetti. Tonight he chose the best of both worlds with Taco Stuffed Pasta Shells. I first found the recipe on Blog Chef and modified it just a bit to suit our tastes (and what we had on hand).

This is ultimate kid food. Easy, quick to prepare and fun! It is small enough that they can hold it in their hands (after it cools of course) - which makes it fun finger food for lunch the next day. C1 can prepare a lot of it by himself (save for the parts that need to be done on the stove or in the oven) and really likes to crush the chips over the top.


Taco Stuffed Shells
Serves 4

1lb ground beef (or ground turkey, I usually use whichever is on sale)
1 package taco seasoning (I make my own and just use 1/4 cup, recipe here)
1 4 ounce package neufchatel cream cheese (1/3 less fat cream cheese)

12 large pasta shells
1 cup salsa (I usually make my own, my favorite salsa recipe is here)
1 cup taco sauce (I use Rotel if I don't have taco sauce on hand)
1 cup cheddar cheese (shredded)
1 cup Monterey jack cheese (shredded)
1 ½ cups tortilla chips (crushed)
shredded lettuce, tomatoes, chopped black olives, onions, sour cream, etc. for garnish

In large skillet, brown ground beef. When browned, add taco seasoning and 1/2 cup water. Add neufchatel cheese and stir occasionally until melted and thoroughly incorporated. While the ground beef is browning, put a large pot of water to boil and prepare pasta shells according to manufacturers instructions. Set both aside to cool.

(note, the mixture was fully cool and the burner off before he stirred it)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a baking dish (I use a 8x11-inch glass dish) by spreading the taco sauce on the bottom of the dish. When the ground beef and shells are cool, fill the pasta shells with a tablespoon or so of the ground beef mixture and set into the baking dish.

Put a little salsa over each shell and then cover with crushed tortilla chips (hell yes I used generic...hubs hasn't graduated from law school yet!) and cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.





As C1 would say "MMMM, dat's good Momma!"



oh.mah.gah. Chocolate Truffle Cake



I present to you: Chocolate Truffle Cake.

The Chocolate Truffle Cake is an almost flourless cake with loads of decadent chocolate. To say it is chocolaty is an understatement. It is most definitely a "to be shared" type dessert.

I had two bars of Sharffenberger dark chocolate that I was saving for a special occasion. What better time than the launch of my blog to dive in. I wanted something that would showcase the chocolate, and this did so beautifully.

I garnished with raspberries and whipped cream, but thought strawberries or even oranges would be great. I think the next time I make it, I'll add some orange zest to the batter to cut the richness a bit and add another layer of flavor.

Chocolate Truffle Cake
This recipe yields 1 8-inch round cake

5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Sharffenberger 70% dark chocolate)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder (the recipe specified dutch-process but I did not have any on hand, so I used Hershey's special dark)
2 T. all purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
4 large egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
confectioners sugar, whipping cream, fresh berries to garnish

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Grease an 8x2-inch round cake pan )not a springform and line the bottom with parchment.

Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Combine the sugar (2/3 cup), cocoa powder, and flour in a small heavy saucepan. Stir in just enough milk to make a paste, then stir in the rest. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching. Reduce the heat and simmer very gently, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Immediately pour the hot mixture over the chopped chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is completely smooth. Whisk in the egg yolks and vanilla.

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Add 1/4 cup sugar gradually, and continue beating on high speed until the peaks are stiff but not dry. Use a rubber spatula to fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remaining whites. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly.

Bake for exactly 30 minutes, the top of the cake will have a thin crust and the interior will still be gooey. Set the cake pan on a rack to cool completely, then refrigerate until chilled, or overnight. Invert the cake onto a plate and peel off the paper liner. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and serve with whipping cream and berries.

YUM!

Corsican Beef Stew




This is fabulous. Really fabulous. There are many beef stew recipes out there and they are much the same - give or take a few baby carrots or cream of something soups. This beef stew recipe abandons tradition in favor of garlic, bacon, mushrooms and wine...lots of wine.

When I ate it, I tasted the smokiness of the bacon first, then the tang of the tomato paste and the background was amok with the piquant rosemary and the earthy mushrooms. The cinnamon really shone in this recipe, there wasn't much but it really rounded out the flavors. Just a small sprinkling of good Parmesan on top really made a difference. The mushrooms and onions slightly melt into the wine and create a mellow, mouthwatering gravy that coats the pasta wonderfully.

This recipe serves 4 - or 2 if you have a husband like mine

Ingredients:

6 garlic cloves
2# stewing beef, cut into 2 inch pieces
4 oz. thick bacon cut into strips
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, sliced
1# portobello mushrooms
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
2 Tbsp passata (see note)
pinch of ground cinnamon
sprig of rosemary
1 bay leaf
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt
ground black pepper
1# of large, tubular pasta (I like rigatoni)

Cut three of the garlic cloves into thin strips and insert into the pieces of beef by making little slits with a sharp knife. Push the pieces of bacon into the beef with the garlic. Season the meat with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan, add half the beef and brown well on all sides. Repeat with the remaining beef. Transfer to a plate. Add the sliced onions to the pan and cook until lightly browned. Crush the remaining garlic and add to the onions with the meat.

Stir in the white wine, mushrooms, cinnamon, rosemary and bay leaf and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook gently for about 30 minutes, stirring often. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer very gently for 3 hours, until the meat is very tender.

Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling, salted water for 10 minutes, or until al dente. Lift the pieces of meat out of the gravy and transfer to a warmed serving platter. Drain the pasta and layer in a bowl with the gravy and cheese. Serve with the meat.

note: passata is a cooked tomato concentrate. You may be able to find it in a well stocked Italian supermarket or just substitute tomato paste.



Buttered Bruschetta



Whether you pronounce it broo-she-ta or broo-ske-ta, one thing is true: It is delicious. Bruschetta just screams summer. This bruschetta is different as it is made with butter instead of olive oil and the bread is pan fried instead of broiled. The result is crispy, garlicky, rich bread with a refreshing topping of juicy tomatoes and pungent basil. Finish with a little lemon zest and Parmesan cheese.


Makes about 25 if you use a baguette, 6 if you use a french bread

Ingredients:

4 T. salted butter
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 baguette or french bread, sliced
1 large tomato (I used a medium sized brandywine), chopped
15 basil leaves
2 T. balsamic vinegar
lemon zest and/or Parmesan cheese to finish
salt and fresh cracked pepper

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic. Add bread in a single layer. When bread gets golden and crispy, remove from pan and set aside. In a medium sized bowl, add tomatoes. Chiffonade basil and add to tomatoes. Add balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon tomato mixture on top of bread rounds. Garnish and serve immediately.








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