Shepherd’s Pie with Cheddar Potato Topping

St. Patrick’s Day was yesterday.  After dropping my son off at school I remembered, having dressed him in nothing green.  With blog posts and Instagram feeds full of “pot o’ gold” crafts, kids decked out in green and green or Irish foods, I knew I’d failed as a mom and food blogger.  I figured I should make something for dinner that night that was somewhat Irish, even though I’ve never been big on the holiday.  The more important thing about March 17 is that it’s my niece’s birthday!  Happy 4th birthday, Maren!

I’d seen a few people posting pics of their beautiful Irish soda breads on social media, but I am kind of breaded out at the moment.  The next thing that popped into my head was Shepherd’s Pie.  A complete meal with meat, veggies and starch all in one pan!

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I found an easy and basic recipe, made a quick grocery list and headed to the store.  This one from Martha is basically what I made, but with a few changes.  I also took some tips from a cookbook just recently added to my collection, America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

In perusing recipes I found some call this dish Shepherd’s Pie, and others call it Cottage Pie.  What’s the difference?  Opinions differ as to whether or not there is one.  Cottage pie was the term first used for the dish.  But over time people began calling it Cottage pie if it contained beef and Shepherd’s pie if it contained lamb.  A lot of what I’ve read says you can use either term.

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This meal wound up being quite good, a terrific comfort food, and something you can make in advance.  Cook the meat filling and the potatoes, store them separately, refrigerate for up to 1 day, then layer in the casserole and bake when you’re ready.  You can even assemble this in the morning, refrigerate it and bake it in the evening.  I’d recommend adding a little extra milk to the potatoes if you’re going to make it in advance.  For some reason I feel like letting mashed potatoes sit in the fridge dries them out.  This might not be true, but it just makes me feel better to add a little extra liquid.  No one likes dry potatoes.  A couple tablespoons should be enough.

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I like the combination of carrots, celery, onion and peas in this, but you can leave the peas out if you’re not a fan, or add corn to the mix.  If you don’t have fresh thyme, use 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme leaves.  Instead of water use leftover beef or chicken broth.  It’s not enough to justify opening a new container, but if you have 1 cup that needs to be used, this is a fine time to use it.  Instead of sharp white cheddar you can use regular cheddar cheese, or leave it out if you like.  Use the combination of 2% milk and cream, or use all whole milk or all 2%.  The cream adds a nice richness, but isn’t totally necessary.

You don’t need to serve this with anything, but pairing it with a crispy green salad is a good way to round out the meal.  Enjoy!

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Shepherd’s Pie

Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

Filling

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 4 stalks celery, cut in half lengthwise then chopped
  • 4 carrots, cut into quarters lengthwise then chopped
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 cup water or broth
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • salt and pepper to taste

Potatoes

  • 2 large russet potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup 2% milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 egg

Directions

Filling

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and drizzle with a little olive or vegetable oil.  Add in the beef and cook, breaking up the pieces until it is no longer pink, about 8 minutes.
  2. Line a large plate with paper towels and remove meat from the pan to drain on the paper towels.
  3. Return the pan to the heat and add in onion, celery and carrots.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until vegetables become tender.  Season with a pinch of salt and the thyme.
  4. Add in the flour and tomato paste and stir to combine, cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Add in the water or broth, stir to combine and bring to a simmer.  Add in the peas, stir and let cook for 3-5 minutes.

Potatoes

  1. Peel the potatoes and then cut into small chunks.
  2. Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cool water.
  3. Place pan over high heat and cook for about 15 minutes, until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork,
  4. Drain the water from the potatoes, then return to the pan and begin mashing to release some of the steam, mash for about 1 minute.
  5. Add in the butter and milk along with some salt.  Mash it up, then add in the cheese and continue to mash until it reaches a consistency that you like.  Add in more milk if the potatoes seem dry, and taste and adjust seasonings.
  6. Mix in egg.

Assemble and Bake

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Spray a casserole dish (a deep 8×8, 9×9 or 11×17) with non-stick spray.
  3. Layer beef mixture on the bottom of the pan, then layer potatoes on top and spread evenly.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until top begins to brown.

 

Basic Cream Biscuits

As I declared recently I am on a mission to be a master biscuit maker.  So today I am stating with a basic biscuit recipe, the cream biscuit.

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The ingredients are simple and you probably have all but the heavy cream right now.  Maybe you have the cream if you’re an avid baker or you drink cream in your coffee, or you just have a kitchen that’s ready for anything!  I had to go out and buy some cream to make these biscuits, but I had everything else, flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.  That’s all you need.  And from start to finish these only take about 25 minutes!  What could be better than a quick, simple and delicious biscuit?

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Everyone wants a tender biscuit.  So, as I began making these biscuits I was very conscious of a tip I’ve heard and read many times regarding biscuit making, DO NOT OVERWORK THE DOUGH.  So I mixed it up just until it held together, and I kneaded it just enough so that I could easily pat it together to cut from.  After cutting three 2 1/2 inch biscuits from my first round of dough I was a little scared to bring the scraps together to cut from, so I dealt with them very gently.  The result was a less uniform biscuit, but one that still tasted amazing!  The lesson I learned from this was to make sure you get as many biscuits from your first round of dough as possible to get as many beautiful biscuits as you can.

I was also shooting for tall biscuits, so I patted the dough out a little thicker than the recipe states, about 1 inch thick.  This led to fewer total biscuits, 6 instead of the 8 the recipe states you’ll get from the recipe.

The biscuits fill your house with an amazing and rich aroma as they bake.  It’s so delicious that you can’t help but take a bite of one of these as soon as they’re cool enough to eat.  And that, of course, is they best time to eat them, when they’re nice and warm.  If you make these ahead of time, you can warm them in a low oven before eating.  You can also cut the rounds of dough, place them on the cookie sheet, then cover them and refrigerate for up to 2 hours before baking.

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Enjoy these with butter and jam, the simpler the better in my opinion.  However, I do plan to use some of the leftover biscuits to make breakfast sandwiches this weekend.

Basic Cream Biscuits

From America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Makes 6-8 biscuits, depending on the cutter

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Directions

  1.  Preheat oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Make a well in the center and add the cream.  Mix gently with a wooden spoon until just combined.
  4. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead just until dough comes together.
  5. Pat into a round about 3/4 to 1 inch thick.  Using a 2 or 2 1/2 inch cutter, press straight down without twisting to cut each biscuit.  Place on the baking sheet and continue cutting.
  6. Gather scraps together and cut as many more as you can.
  7. Bake for 12-15 minutes until tops are golden.

Browned Butter and Pecan Apple Crisp

Ok, so I know it’s almost spring and dishes like apple crisp aren’t exactly spring-type desserts.  It’s more appropriate for fall or winter.  But I made an exception for this most spectacular apple crisp.  And let’s be honest, I don’t discriminate when it comes to sweets.  Any time, any type, any where.  I’m game.

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This apple crisp incorporates the wonderfulness of browned butter and is really rich and deep in flavor.  The oat crisp is crunchy and delicious and the abundance of apples make this crisp more like a crust-less apple pie than your typical crisp.

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The original recipe calls for an 8×8 pan.  I used a 9×9.  An 11×7 would be good.  And you could probably use a 9×13, but the apples and the crisp topping layers will be thinner as you use a bigger pan.  You could also bake this in individual ramekins for a little more formal dessert.

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I sliced the apples very thinly (32 slices per apple to be exact) because that’s how I like them.  This little gadget cores and slices apples into 8 equally sized pieces with one cut.  It’s definitely a time-saver, and definitely a uni-tasker, but one of my favorite kitchen tools.  Go get yourself one!  It made all the apple slicing easy.  But you do still have to peel them.  I kind of hate peeling apples, probably because I’m not very good at it and come close to losing a fingertip every time I do it.

I assembled this one afternoon and didn’t end up baking it until the next night.  So you can make this a day in advance and bake it straight from the fridge, which makes this a good dessert to serve for a dinner party because you can make it ahead and then pop it in the oven when you sit down for dinner and it’ll be ready once everyone is done eating.  Serve this with warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, Blue Bell if you can get it where you live.  Nothing beats Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla when you’re topping a warm fruit dessert.  But any vanilla ice cream will do!  Enjoy!

Brown Butter Apple Crisp

Adapted very slightly from Ambitious Kitchen

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

Topping

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
  • ½ cup chopped pecans

Filling

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 6 medium-sized Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

For the Topping

  1. Combine flour, oats, brown sugar and salt in a medium sized bowl.
  2. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or your hands until butter is incorporated but with many pea sized pieces.  Mix in the pecans.  Set in the fridge until ready to use.

For the Filling

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Place butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Watch the butter closely once it has melted.  It will start to foam and bubble, once it begins to brown and smell nutty, remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl combine apple slices, brown sugar and cinnamon and toss together.  Pour the butter over and toss to coat apples.
  4. Pour apples in baking pan, then spread topping evenly over the apples, pressing down slightly.  Place on a baking sheet if you’re using a small pan to catch any drips.
  5. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until topping is crunchy and browned and the edges are bubbling.  Let cool slightly before serving.

 

Sweet Potato and Rosemary Biscuits

I want to be good at biscuit making.  Really good.  So good that someday my kids or grandkids will say, “These aren’t as good as Mom’s biscuits.” when they have someone else’s.  But I’ve only made biscuits a handful of times, and you can’t get really good at something unless you do it a lot.  So I think I am going to start making biscuits more, and I’m starting with something a little out of the ordinary, but totally delicious.

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This recipe comes from The Kitchn, I just added some fresh chopped rosemary and opted not to make the maple butter, which I am sure is truly heavenly.  But I was looking for something a little more savory to serve with dinner.

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These biscuits turned out very well, although not tall and fluffy like I imagine perfect biscuits to be.  They are moist and the flavor is incredible.  The sweet potato isn’t all that noticeable, but does add a nice sweetness to the biscuit and a lovely orange hue.  The rosemary is just present enough without being overwhelming.

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Serve these with butter, cause you can’t ever have too much.   Enjoy them for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  I think a little bacon and egg on one of these would be a spectacular way to start the day.  With a few slices of ham they’d make nice little lunch sandwiches, and serve them along side soup or whatever you’re having for dinner.  Or just eat one as an afternoon snack.

Sweet Potato and Rosemary Biscuits

From The Kitchn

Makes 9 3-inch biscuits

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
  • 1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato (about 1 medium sized sweet potato)
  • 3/4 cup butter milk (you may not use quite all of this)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into chunks

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Set aside.
  4. Whisk sweet potato, 1/2 cup buttermilk and rosemary together in a small bowl.  Set aside.
  5. Cut butter into the flour mixture using a pastry blender, 2 knives, or your hands, until butter is a bit smaller than pea sized.
  6. Fold in the sweet potato mixture, add a little more buttermilk if mixture seems dry.  Bu it should still be a little sticky.  Chill the dough for 30 minutes.
  7. Flour a work surface and turn dough out onto it.  Pat out into a round, about 1 inch high.  Use a 2 or 3-inch round cutter and cut as many biscuits out from the dough as you can and place them on the baking sheet.  Pat the dough scraps together and cut more biscuits.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes, then let cool (or not) and enjoy.

Quick Chickpea and Spinach Curry

I get one cooking magazine in the mail. Fine Cooking.  I’ve mentioned it more than once (at least a dozen times probably) on the blog.  It’s most definitely my favorite cooking magazine.  It doesn’t have loads of content, but what it does have is good content and not a lot of ads.  Anyway, buy a copy sometime and check it out.

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This recipe for chickpea and spinach curry is from the latest  issue.  While doing meal planning for this past week I was at a loss for Tuesday’s dinner.  So I grabbed the magazine and started flipping through it.  This one stood out to me right away.  I love the flavors in Indian food, but it often takes a lot of time and ingredients to make good Indian food at home.  This recipe allows you to take some short cuts but still wind up with a very flavorful and satisfying meal with just enough spice.

Our Tuesday nights get a little crazy, no matter how hard I try I always feel like I am rushing to get dinner ready or the house picked up.  This meal fit in perfectly with our  busy night (although I failed in some ways this past week and we were still rushed!).  It comes together incredibly quickly and cooks up in a flash.  It’s full of good-for-you vegetables and fills you up without being heavy.  But your house will smell like curry for a few days.  That’s the only downside.  Ben came home the next day from work and said, “Indian again?” to which I replied “No, spaghetti and meatballs.” which I’d spent all day cooking.  I was sure it would’ve masked the curry, but no.

You can serve this as a side dish or as a vegetarian main, which is what I did.  The recipe below serves 4 as a side and 2 as a main.  It’s easily doubled or tripled, so can suit whatever your needs are.

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I skipped out on the yogurt the first time around, but ate it with leftovers and loved the creamy, coolness of it next to the spice.  Definitely serve this with naan if you can, but I am sure it would also be nice on a bed of white rice.

If you don’t like cilantro or are serving this to people who don’t, leave it out of the dish.  You can serve fresh cilantro separately and let people decide how much, if any, they want.

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Quick Chickpea and Spinach Curry

From Fine Cooking

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne (optional, I left it out)
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 14-1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • 6-7 ounces baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional, mix in or on the side)
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (optional for serving)

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add in the onion, ginger, curry powder and garam masala and cook for a few minutes, until the onion is softened.  Add in the garlic and cook for one minute more.
  3. Stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes, and salt to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon and add no more than 1 teaspoon)
  4. Add in the spinach, a cup or so at a time, letting is cook down just a bit before adding more to keep you pan from getting  overloaded.
  5. Once the spinach has cooked down and is wilted, season with more salt if needed, cover the pan and turn off the heat.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes.
  6. You can stir in the cilantro to the dish now if desired or serve it on the side.

 

Daring Bakers: Star Breads

Beauty surrounded the Daring Bakers this month as our host, Sawsan, of chef in disguise, challenged us to make beautiful, filled breads. Who knew breads could look as great as they taste?

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When I saw this challenge I felt a little intimidated.  I don’t feel 100% comfortable with bread, always fearing I will make a mistake somewhere along the way and the dough won’t rise or the end product will be dry and inedible.  But I wound up with two wonderful loaves of beautiful bread that even my kids loved.  It was referred to as the “special bread” by my son.

This challenge gave Daring Bakers the freedom to choose what they used to fill their bread and also what design they would create.  Being the non-creative type I just used the suggested methods for twisting my loaves of bread.  And if any part of you thinks, “I can’t do that.” trust me, you can.  It’s easier than it seems. For fillings I made a savory bread and a sweet bread.  I used the same dough recipe for each.

For the savory loaf I chose basil pesto and mozzarella cheese.  My only regret is not adding just a little more cheese to the layers.  But it was delicious and something I would definitely go through the trouble to make again.  It would be a lovely and impressive bread to bring to a dinner party or pot luck.

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For the sweet loaf I went with classic cinnamon sugar.  We ate this bread for breakfast over the course of 3 days and Carson was sad when it was gone.  Again, this is something I’d make again without hesitation.  The method I used in twisting the dough was a little more complicated and tedious than the pesto bread, but baked up beautifully.

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I drizzled this bread with a simple milk and powdered sugar glaze before serving.  Almost like eating a cinnamon roll, possibly better.cinnamonbread1

Here are a few pictures of the process, none of the actual twisting of the bread since I am my own photographer and could not manage to get any action shots.

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The instructions I am going to try to write for how to shape your bread will probably fail in perfectly communicating how to do it.  So here are a few links that will help you.

This one has a good video on the entire process.  This is not the twisting method I used, but I think it looks beautiful and wish I’d found it before I made my bread!

And this one is what I used.  I found the pictures and instructions to be very helpful.

Pesto Star Bread

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup milk, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3-1/4 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (start with 3 1/4, add more if you need it)

Filling

  • 3-5 tablespoons basil pesto, store bought or homemade
  • 3-5 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese

Topping

  • olive oil
  • faked salt

Directions

Dough

  1. Heat butter, milk and water just until butter has melted and mixture is between 100 and 110°F, warm but not hot.
  2. Put milk mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk in egg and sugar, then sprinkle yeast on to the mixture, stir once then let sit for 10-15 minutes.  Mixture should be foamy after this, if it’s not your liquid was too hot and killed the yeast or your yeast was no good to begin with.
  3. Place the dough hook on your mixer and begin mixing, adding about a cup of flour at a time.  Once all the flour has been added, mix until dough comes together.
  4. Place in a large greased bowl, cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, until doubled in size.

Filling and Shaping and Baking

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and divide into 4 equal sized pieces.
  3. Roll one dough piece out, just big enough to fit your template.  I used an 8-inch cake pan, but I think if you can manage to roll your dough out well enough you could get a 9 or 10-inch circle out of the dough.  8-inch was a nice size, though.
  4. Place the template onto the dough and trim off the excess.  Transfer to the cookie sheet.
  5. Spread with a heaping tablespoon of pesto, just about to the edge, then sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon of cheese.
  6. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough, but not topping the top layer with pesto and cheese.  Press and tuck the edges of the top piece to enclose the bread somewhat.
  7. Brush the top layer with olive oil.
  8. With a small sharp knife or a bench scraper, cut the bread into 12 wedges, leaving the outer edge intact, making sure to cut all the way through the layers.
  9. Take one triangle and twist it gently 3 times and place back  in the center.  Repeat with the rest of the wedges, twisting in the same direction.
  10. Let rest for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 450°F.  Sprinkle with flaked salt and bake for 5 minutes, then lower oven temp to 375°F and bake for 10-15 more minutes until bread is golden brown.  Keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t get too dark.

Cinnamon Star Bread

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup milk, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3-1/4 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Filling

  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Topping

  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Glaze (enough for 4 pieces, double for the entire loaf)

  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons milk

Directions

Dough

  1. Heat butter, milk and water just until butter has melted and mixture is between 100 and 110°F, warm but not hot.
  2. Put milk mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk in egg and sugar, then sprinkle yeast on to the mixture, stir once then let sit for 10-15 minutes.  Mixture should be foamy after this, if it’s not your liquid was too hot and killed the yeast or your yeast was no good to begin with.
  3. Place the dough hook on your mixer and begin mixing, adding about a cup of flour at a time.  Once all the flour has been added, mix until dough comes together.
  4. Place in a large greased bowl, cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, until doubled in size.

Filling and Shaping and Baking

  1. Whisk sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and divide into 4 equal sized pieces.
  4. Roll one dough piece out, just big enough to fit your template.  I used an 8-inch cake pan, but I think if you can manage to roll your dough out well enough you could get a 9 or 10-inch circle out of the dough.  8-inch was a nice size, though.
  5. Place the template onto the dough and trim the excess.  Transfer carefully to the cookie sheet.
  6. Brush bottom layer with butter, then sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar.  Repeat with the remaining dough, but only brush the top layer with butter.
  7. Using a small sharp knife or a bench scraper cut circle of dough into 8 equal-sized wedges, making sure to cut all the way through the layers.
  8. With a small knife cut a slit in the center of each triangle leaving space at the top and bottom, the cut should not reach either the base or the tip of the triangle.
  9. Take the tip of the triangle and gently bring it up, over and through the slit, then repeat once more making two twists.  Place the triangle back on the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining pieces.
  10. Take the outside edge of each triangle and pinch the ends up and together.
  11. Whisk together the milk and sugar and brush onto the bread.
  12. Let rest for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 450°F.
  13. Bake for 5 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375°F and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

Glaze

  1. Sift powdered sugar into a bowl.
  2. Whisk in milk until mixture is smooth.
  3. Glaze entire loaf (with a doubled recipe of the glaze) OR glaze each piece individually.  If you don’t plan to eat all the bread in one sitting I’d recommend waiting to glaze the remaining bread until you plan to eat it.

Store any leftover bread wrapped in foil at room temperature for 3-5 days.  Re-warm in a low oven, toaster oven or microwave.  You could also freeze this bread, wrap it well in plastic wrap, then foil.  Thaw then reheat in a low oven.

 

 

Chicken, Bacon, Avocado & Swiss Panini

Sometimes I have one ingredient that I really need to use and the rest of the meal comes about because of it.  That’s exactly what happened last night.  The ingredient…BACON.

Ben bought some really amazing thick-cut bacon last week when we grilled burgers.  I had more than half of the package left and it needed to be used in the next couple of days.  I could have frozen it, but when something goes into my freezer it may never come out.  And there was no way I was going to waste good bacon!  In college my best friend used to order the chicken, bacon, ranch sandwich at Quizno’s and she’d add either avocado or guacamole.  I might have some details a little confused here, but it was something like that.  With the bacon and some leftover grilled chicken in my fridge I knew exactly what we’d be having for dinner.

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We eat panini a lot, and usually I’m using leftovers to make them.  It’s one of the main ways we use any leftover steak.  As with most panini recipes the ingredient list is short, and prep is simple if you’re using leftovers.  All you need is some bread (I used sourdough) some cooked chicken, a few slices of cooked bacon, avocado and swiss cheese.  You can use any kind of cheese that you like, but I thought the swiss paired well.

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You can spread some mayo on the bread, or if the Quizno’s addition of ranch sounds too good to pass up you can either spread some ranch dressing on the bread or dip the sandwich in it after it’s been cooked.  If you have some guacamole around, then use that instead of the avocado.

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For a nice and crunchy exterior, and terrific color, I like to either drizzle the bread with olive oil or, if I’m feeling really crazy, spread it with softened butter.  It’s up to you.

You don’t need a panini press, but if you have one that you don’t use very often I highly encourage you to dust it off and make it a part of your life.  To make these without a press, just heat a skillet over medium high heat and while one side is cooking, press down on the sandwich with another heavy pan, then flip and do it again.  Like a smashed grilled cheese, although I guess pressed does sound better than smashed.

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The recipe below makes 2 sandwiches, so adjust the ingredient amounts as needed for the number of paninis you plan to make.

Ben and I both really enjoyed these panini and I can see myself planning my weekly meals with some extra chicken and bacon in the future.  Enjoy!

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Chicken, Bacon, Avocado and Swiss Panini

Ingredients

  • 4 slices of thick cut sourdough bread
  • 1 cooked chicken breast, sliced
  • 4 slices of cooked bacon
  • 1 half of an avocado, sliced
  • 4 slices of swiss cheese
  • mayo or ranch dressing, optional
  • olive oil or butter for grilling

Directions

  1. Preheat your panini press or a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Set out your bread (spread with mayo or ranch) and layer 1 slice of cheese, chicken, bacon, avocado and top with another slice of cheese.  (I tear the slice of cheese so that it covers the bread.)  Repeat with remaining sandwiches.
  3. Drizzle olive oil or spread butter onto both sides of the bread.
  4. Place on the panini press or on the heated skillet and press until bread is golden brown and cheese had melted.

 

Fruit Loop Marshmallow Treats

Having kids has somehow made it ok to for me to purchase certain kinds of cereal.  Lucky Charms is usually the one I fall for, and Carson loves it, of course.  But a while back I just had to buy a box of Fruit Loops.  I loved them as a kid.  It made the milk turn a lovely pastel color and made the milk taste super delicious, like most sugary cereals do.  I thought the kids would LOVE it.  Both of them refused to eat it.  I guess that’s good, but it did mean I had a huge family sized box that was just begging to be made into something delicious.

With a couple of bags of marshmallows in my pantry it was an easy decision to make Rice Krispy Treats, only with Fruit Loops.

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I think these are beautiful!  The colors are just a lot of fun.  When Ben saw these on the counter he said, “Ewww.”  He isn’t a big fan of super sweet treats, so the combination of sugar cereal and marshmallow doesn’t appeal to him in the least.  They are a little over the top, I’ll admit.  And they are sweet, a small square is just enough.  I think they’d be a great little treat at a kid’s birthday party.  But they’re also a nice little treat for adults as well.

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Fruit Loop Marshmallow Treats

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces mini marshmallows
  • 1 stick of butter (plus more for the pan and your hands)
  • 8 cups of Fruit Loops

Directions

  1. Butter a 9×13 inch pan and set aside.
  2. Melt butter and marshmallows over low heat in a large pot until marshmallows are melted and the mixture is smooth.
  3. Add in the Fruit Loops and mix well to coat all the cereal.
  4. Pour the mixture out into the pan, then butter your hands and press mixture out evenly.  Let cool, then cut into squares.

Poppyseed Chicken Casserole

I’ve debated over whether or not to post this recipe for some time.  And some of you are going to roll your eyes and turn up your noses at me.  But this is seriously one of the most delicious and easiest meals I’ve ever made, and one that gets the husband (and myself, to be completely honest) super excited about dinner.  A friend of mine made this for me back in college, and someone brought it to us when Betsy was born.  You might already know about the wonders of this casserole yourself and have a recipe that you like.  I’ve tried several and after some tweaking here and there I found this one to be our favorite.

This casserole is great when you don’t have a ton of time but still want something home cooked.  I know, some of you will argue that it’s not really cooking.  And you can go right on ahead and judge me, but I’m sticking to my guns here and telling you that this is really good.  Just close your eyes while you’re mixing it up…

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The ingredient list for this casserole is short and sweet.  I typically use a rotisserie chicken (1 whole chicken is just about right) but you can use leftover chicken from another meal if you’d like.  If the chicken you use is flavored in any way that flavor will really come through.  I made this once with leftover grilled chicken that we’d marinated in Italian dressing and it was very different in flavor than when I’d used poached chicken or a rotisserie chicken.

Now you’re going to cringe, but all you need other than the chicken is a can of cream of chicken soup (I like to use reduced sodium) a 16 ounce container of sour cream (low fat is fine) a sleeve of Ritz crackers, poppyseeds and a few tablespoons of butter.  Just go with me on this one.

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You can bake this in any dish, but I prefer one that isn’t too big and isn’t too small.  An 11×7 casserole dish is what I usually use.  An 8×8 is fine, but then the chicken and cracker layers are thicker.  If you use a 9×13 the layers will be very thin.

I always serve this with white rice.  You could use brown.  I’m sure it would be wonderful and add more heartiness to the meal.  I’ve just always used white, and so that’s what I will probably always use.  Creature of habit.

And I always serve this with steamed broccoli.  Not sure what it is I love about the combination, but getting a little sauce from the chicken onto a piece of broccoli isn’t at all bad.  Green beans, asparagus, carrots, all good options.  I will continue to serve it with broccoli.  Again, creature of habit.  Whatever side you serve, make sure it has some color.  Color typically means more nutritional value, and if you serve this with steamed cauliflower you’re serving a super neutral colored meal, which isn’t quite as lovely on your plate.

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After baking you have a creamy casserole with a terrifically crunchy topping with just a touch of sweetness from the poppyseeds.  This is a comfort food for me.  I know the thought of cream of chicken soup and 2 cups of sour cream is hard to handle, but please, please make it.  You will not be sorry.  You might even thank me.

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Poppyseed Chicken Casserole

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 3-4 cups of cooked chicken, chopped or shredded into fairly large pieces
  • 1 can of cream of chicken soup, reduced sodium
  • 1 16-ounce container of low fat sour cream
  • 1 sleeve of Ritz crackers
  • 1 tablespoon poppyseeds
  • 3 tablespoons of butter, melted
  • cooked white rice for serving

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray an 11×17 or 8×8 inch dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl combine chicken, cream of chicken soup and sour cream.  Mix well then spread into prepared dish.
  3. In a large zip top bag crush crackers into pieces, then pour in poppyseeds and butter.  Seal bag and then toss around until everything is mixed well.
  4. Spread cracker mixture evenly on top of the chicken.
  5. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until bubbly.
  6. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

 

Cream Cheese & Pecan Blondies

More than a few food bloggers I’ve read in the last couple of days have mentioned being done with chocolate.  After Valentine’s Day I was in the same boat.  And while I had the desire to bake something sweet and delicious I knew I needed to steer clear of cocoa.  These blondies were the perfect compromise.

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I love blondies, maybe, just maybe more than I love brownies, but it depends so I can’t say for sure.  These blondies have a cream cheese swirl and pecans to make them even more delicious.  The top and edges get crispy and crunchy while the inside stays moist and chewy.  It’s a glorious combination.

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You can substitute walnuts for the pecans, or leave the nuts out altogether if you’re just not a fan of nuts or if you have an allergy.  The blondie batter can even be used on its own without the cream cheese.  You could mix in white or dark chocolate chips, toffee, or whatever you’d like.  The recipe calls for cake flour, and while I think all purpose would be OK, I haven’t tried it out.  Let me know if you come up with any spectacular combinations!

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These are wonderful on their own, but also quite nice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  But really, what isn’t nice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream?  ”Enjoy!” says Betsy.creamcheesepecanblondies7

Cream Cheese & Pecan Blondies

Adapted slightly from More from Magnolia Cookbook

Ingredients

Blondies

  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Cream Cheese Topping

  • 6 ounces cream cheese (1/3 fat is fine) softened
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a 9×13 inch pan and set aside.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Beat butter and sugar together in a large bowl until well combined and light in color, 2-3 minutes.
  4. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Then mix in vanilla.
  5. Add in the four mixture and mix to combine, then fold in pecans.  Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
  6. In a medium bowl beat cream cheese and sugar well.  Add in the egg yolk, flour and vanilla and mix well.
  7. Drop cream cheese mixture in heaping spoonfuls onto the blondie batter.  Use a knife to swirl the cream cheese through the batter without totally mixing it in.
  8. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until top is beginning to brown and cake tester inserted into the blondies comes out with just a few crumbs.
  9. Let cool to room temperature before cutting OR let cool for 20 minutes at room temperature then pop them in the fridge for half an hour before cutting.

 

As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow