Thursday, March 31, 2011

On Top of Spaghetti...

...all covered with cheese. I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed.

You all know that song, right? Well, tonight for dinner we had spaghetti and meatballs and it was so good I had to share it with you right away. I love meat just as much as the next carnivore, but for some reason I've never found a meatball that I like. And trust me, spaghetti is my favorite meal, so I've tried my fair share of meatballs. But this one practically melts in your mouth and is so flavorful!

I really hate to do this to you, but I'm sort of in a food coma right now, so you'll have to check back tomorrow for the recipe. There's nothing special about the spaghetti, but I combined three different meatball versions to get this one just right (like I said, I've been trying meatballs for awhile now), and I'll have to write the directions tomorrow morning. Mmmmm pasta!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Weekly Menu Planner

Do you plan your meals? Planning a weekly menu is one of the things my husband and I really enjoy doing. We don't stick to it religiously, but we do stay as close to our plan as possible. It helps me stay organized and know what we have in the fridge and freezer, and know what we need to buy.

When we plan our menu, we take stock of what we already have and what we need to buy. Instead of writing random items down on a list, I usually organize it based on the layout of whatever store I'm going to (produce, fish/meat, deli section, canned goods, dairy, etc.). Doing it like that helps me not forget something on my list or stray and start picking up random, delicious looking items.

Kelly over at Glamour This! created the fantastic menu planner above. My list and menu is usually jotted down on a scrap piece of paper or on my iTouch, so saying I love this is an understatement. What I especially love about this is that she included a grocery list to the side—perfect. I'll admit, though, that I don't go as far as writing out my breakfast and lunch plans.

How do you stay organized when it comes to menu planning?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chips and Salsa

Growing up in New Mexico means learning to love spicy food, and what better way to train your palate than with tasty salsa? You know how Italian restaurants usually start out with olive oil and bread on the table? Well, New Mexican restaurants are notorious for providing little bowls of chips and salsa for customers to enjoy before their meal. Salsa is, by far, my favorite condement. There's nothing like walking into any New Mexican grocery store and seeing an entire aisle filled—from top to bottom—with jars of salsa.

My Tia Anna makes the most unbelievable homemade salsa. It's so good that I used to show up at our family functions early just to pour some of her salsa in my own to-go container (okay, it was usually a plastic cup) so I could be sure to have some when I went home. She quickly caught on to my scheme and started bringing me my very own container of salsa.

But that wasn't enough. One day I finally asked her how she made it so I could make it at home. Then she said the one phrase every person who fears the kitchen is afraid of hearing: "Oh, I don't measure anything; I just put a little of this and a little of that in there." Drats. Luckily, she wrote everything down the next time she made it.

This is my version of her salsa, and it's so simple to make. I should note that everything here can be modified. My husband doesn't like cilantro, so I usually put in a little less. And if you don't have green chile, just use jalapenos. The same goes for the texture: if you like chunky salsa, don't puree it as much. Do you have fresh tomatoes on hand? Go for it! A couple other things to keep in mind: taste as you go, but keep in mind that the flavors will mingle together more in the fridge; and try not to oversalt, because most ot the time you'll be scooping this salsa up with a salty chip (recipe below)!

from The Tale of Two Kitchens

2 (14.5 oz) cans of diced tomatoes (drained)
1/2 medium white or yellow onion, diced
3 tablespoons green chile (or jalapenos, to taste)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup cilantro, chopped

Stir all ingredients together. Mix to preferred texture in a food processor, blender, or with an immersion blender. Refrigerate and enjoy!

Tortilla Chips
from The Tale of Two Kitchens

6-inch corn or flour tortillas, cut into triangles
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400° F. Line baking sheets with foil. Spray or brush both sides of tortilla triangles with oil. Place triangles on baking sheet not touching. Sprinkle with salt. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Shepherd's Pie

Last week my husband and I ate a lot of pie in celebration of Pi Day, or Pi(e) Week in our case. Most of the recipes we made were followed to the "T," but I changed this one so much that I decided I need to share it with you. 

I know what you're probably thinking, "Really, Jess? You just showed us a delicious pie and today you're giving us meat and potatoes? Not just that, but a British version of meat and potatoes? Not to rain on your parade or anything, but that's not exactly what I had in mind when you said, 'Pie Week.'" 

Well, well, well. I see how you doubt me. What if I told you this is the best meat and potatoes meal you'll ever eat, and the fact that it has "pie" in its name is just a sweet coincidence. Oh, and it also has veggies in it! Seriously, this is amazing and so incredibly flavorful that my husband and I both licked the plate clean. 

I first tried this in Britain when some friends made it for me; I loved it then and made it a couple times when I came home. I don't know why we don't eat this more often, because it's also really simple to make (don't let the lengthy directions fool you; it's easy, I promise). I hope I'm talking this up enough, because the picture you're about to see doesn't do it a single smidgen of justice. I snapped it as quickly as I could, because all I wanted to do was eat the darn thing! 

Pie week rocks, my friends. It rocks my socks off. 

Shepherd's Pie 
(really, Cottage Pie since it's made with ground beef and not lamb)
adapted from Alton Brown
9 Weight Watchers points+; serves 6

for the potatoes:
  • 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half or sour cream (fat free is fine)
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter (I used Brummel and Brown. LOVE)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • season salt (to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (reserve) 
for the meat filling:
  • 1 tablespoons oil 
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4-1/2 cup diced green chile (optional but so, so, so fantastic in it)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste or ketchup
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary leaves (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (buy the bag that has all three!)
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen carrots, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen English peas
Peel potatoes and dice into 1/2-inch pieces. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease heat to maintain a simmer; cook until tender and easily crushed with tongs, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

Place half-and-half (or sour cream) and butter in a microwave-safe container; heat in the microwave until warmed through, about 35 seconds. Drain potatoes and return to saucepan. Mash potatoes; add half and half, butter, salt(s) and pepper; continue mashing until smooth. Stir in the yolk until well combined.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

While potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. Place oil in a 12-inch saute pan and set over medium high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add onion and mushrooms; saute just until they begin to take on color, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic; stir to combine. Add beef, salt and pepper; cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 3 minutes. Sprinkle meat with flour; toss to coat, cooking for another minute. Add tomato paste (or ketchup), chicken broth, Worcestershire, rosemary, and green chile (optional); stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly.

Add corn, carrots, and peas to the beef mixture and spread evenly into an 11 by 7-inch glass baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle cheese over mashed potatoes. Place dish on a baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven; bake for 25 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown and cheese starts bubbling. Remove from oven and cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Pi Day!

Do you know what today is? It's Pi day! No, that's not a typo—if we have any geeks out in the audience, you probably know that today is "Pi Day" 3.14159!

Because today is officially Pi Day, and because my husband and I really, really, really love pie, I'm going to pass along our favorite pie crust recipe. Making dough is more of my husband's realm, and after trying pie crust after pie crust (did I mention we like pie?), he's dubed this one his favorite. Personally, I think he likes it the best because it has a little alcohol in it, and what's not to like about that? 

This crust is flaky and holds up really well without being too heavy or overpowering. Having a good crust turns a good pie into a delicious pie. My husband also comments that it's really easy to make and freezes really well.

These blueberries were extra juicy, but even the crust still held its own!
Pie Crust: 

6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, cold
2 ounces shortening cut into 1/2-inch pieces, cold
5 to 7 tablespoons applejack
12 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 2 3/4 cups, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar


Place butter, shortening and applejack into the refrigerator for 1 hour. In food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar by pulsing 3 to 4 times. Add butter and pulse 5 to 6 times until the texture looks mealy. Add shortening and pulse another 3 to 4 times until incorporated.

Remove the food processor lid and sprinkle in 5 tablespoons of the applejack. Replace the lid and pulse 5 times. Add more applejack as needed, and pulse again until the mixture holds together when squeezed. Weigh the dough and divide in half. Shape each half into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.

Are you celebrating Pi day? What's your favorite pie?

Monday, March 7, 2011

40 Cloves and a Chicken

Garlic is the one ingredient you will always see in our kitchen. We usually toss an extra clove or two into whatever recipe we're making (except for sweets, because that would just be strange). A few weeks ago, I was flipping through the March issue of The Food Network Magazine and saw that they were featuring garlic, which made me remember this fantastic meal featuring garlic as the main character.

I enjoyed this for the first time a few years ago at my friend's house in England. It was warm, comforting, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious, so I vowed to make it again for my husband. I made this shortly after we got married, but one thing led to another and I got sick and couldn't eat dinner (had nothing to do with the food). My husband loved the meal so much that he ended up eating about 75% of the garlic. Now, like I said, I enjoy garlic more than the average Joe, but when you're living with a person who just inhaled roughly 30 pieces of garlic, things can get a bit interesting. Garlic was literally seeping out of his pores for days. We joke about it now, but it was pretty difficult to be near him. Long story short, share this meal with others and try limiting your garlic intake to around 10-15(ish) cloves each; your partner will thank you, trust me!

With only five ingredients, this recipe mouthwatering delicious...if you like garlic.  And if you don't like garlic, I urge you to give it a second (or third, or fifth, or tenth) chance. Yes, it calls for 40 cloves of garlic, but with such a long cooking time, the garlic becomes creamy, fragrant, and sweet instead of pungent, spicy, and raw. And the chicken—oh, the chicken—it's so juicy that it literally falls off the bone. Don't even get me started on how great the leftovers taste.

Serve this with some homemade French bread, a glass of wine, and good company!

40 Cloves and a Chicken

  • 1 whole chicken (broiler/fryer) cut into 8 pieces
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme 
  • 40 peeled cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

    Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper. coat chicken pieces on all sides with 2 tablespoons of oil.

    In a 12-inch, straight-sided oven safe saute pan* over high heat, cook the chicken for 5 to 7 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Remove pan from heat; add remaining 1/2 cup oil, thyme, and garlic cloves. Cover and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

    Remove pan from oven; set aside for 15 minutes with the lid on. Serve family style with plenty of bread to spread the softened, fragrant garlic on.

    *Since the pan I have isn't oven safe, I brown my chicken in a pan, then transfer it to a small casserole dish before baking in the oven

    Sunday, March 6, 2011

    Hearty Berry Muffins

    In an effort to eat healthier, I've been looking for a good muffin recipe. I figure a muffin would be a perfect snack in the middle of the day or great as a quick breakfast in the morning. The problem is that it's been hard to find a healthy muffin recipe that doesn't taste like you're eating a "diet" muffin (i.e. cardboard).

    Luckily, this muffin is anything but "diet." It has tons of good-for-you ingredients, but actually tastes good. I found this recipe from a book I just finished reading, of all places. It's called "How to Bake a Perfect Life" and has different bread recipes sprinkled throughout the pages. So on top of being a great, fast read, it gave me some good recipes!

    The recipe below includes a streusel topping, but you may notice the picture is missing that particular tasty layer. I only put it on three of the 30 muffins (it says to set it aside and I set it too far away and forgot about it), but then I ate those three muffins before I took the picture. Luckily, I can safely say they're delicious whether you include the streusel or not!

    Seriously, unlike most "healthier" muffins that can come out dray and lackluster, these are moist, light, flavorful, filling, and nutritious. Here's what the author has to say:
    "This is a muffin for those crazy mornings when you need calories in a hurry. The yogurt and nuts add protein, the whole grains add fiber, and the fruit adds nutrients as well as general seduction for picky children. The streusel can be left off to save calories, but trust me, you're better off with one good one. Serve with boiled eggs for a super fast breakfast."

    Hearty Berry Muffins
    adapted slightly from How to Bake a Perfect Life
    yields around 30 (regular-sized) muffins
    3 Weight Watchers points+ (with or without steusel topping)

    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour   
    1 cup whole wheat flour   
      1 cup oats   
    1 Tbsp baking powder   
    1 tsp baking soda   
    1/2 tsp sea salt   
    1 cup honey   
      1 1/2 cups plain fat-free yogurt (or fat free sour cream)
      6 oz raspberry or blueberry yogurt  
    1/2 cup milk   
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    3 Tbsp apple sauce
      1 egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)
      1 cup fresh blueberries   
      1 cup raspberries   

    Streusel Topping:
    1/4 cup flour
    3 Tbsp brown sugar   
    1/4 cup pecans, chopped   
    1 1/2 Tbsp butter, melted  

    Pre-heat oven to 400 and prepare muffin tins with paper or oil. Prepare streusel and set aside.

    Mix dry ingredients in large bowl. In a medium-sized bowl, mix all wet ingredients except for berries; beat together well. Pour wet ingredients into dry mix; beat firmly and quickly just until thoroughly moistened. Add berries and fold in gently.

    Divide batter into greased or paper-lined muffin tins. Distribute streusel topping evenly over batter (optional). Bake for 15 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes in the pan to set the berries. Remove from pan; cool on wire rack.

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Slow Cooker Potato Soup

    I'm eating this soup as I type, because I can't get enough of it. In fact, while I was taking the photos, the soup's aroma persuaded me to actually sneak a couple bites between shots; I had to refill the bowl and start over!

    It's a little ridiculous how easy this is to make, and what's even crazier is how much flavor it has. To be honest, up until the last hour of cooking you'll probably think this recipe isn't turning out right, because it just looks like a watery, clumpy mess. But then you add the cream cheese and it all comes together in a magically delicious way.

    When it comes making soup, I usually check the 10-day forecast and plan to make soup on a rainy day. There's nothing quite like filling up the crock-pot in the morning and letting the ingredients mingle together all day long.

    Slow Cooker Potato Soup
    serves six
    about 8 Weight Watcher Points+ per serving

    2 pounds potatoes, diced and peeled
    1/2 cup carrots, diced
    1/2 cup celery, diced
    28 oz chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
    10 oz cream of mushroom soup
    1 tsp dried parsley
    1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
    2 teaspoons ground pepper
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    1 package (8oz) cream cheese (or Neufchatel)
    4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (garnish)
    shredded cheese (garnish)
    green onion (garnish)

    In a slow cooker, combine the above ingredients except cream cheese and garnishes. Cook on low for 8-10 hour or until potatoes are very soft. One hour before serving, add cream cheese. Stir until blended and continue cooking on "warm." Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and top with garnishes.

    *This even tastes great as leftovers. If the soup is more like mashed potatoes, add a little milk to it before reheating to loosen it up a bit!

    Come join the fun at the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by West Bend.

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Baked Shrimp

    Want something seriously easy and fast? Honestly this is one of the easiest meals I've ever made. And quite possibly one of my favorites. I always buy shrimp when I find it on sale and stick it in the freezer until an idea strikes! I can't take ALL the credit for this dish because the base of this recipe is my Grandmothers. Every few months we have a big birthday dinner celebrating a few birthdays at a time. In January we have "BBQ" shrimp, which isn't actually barbecued. She takes a huge roasting pan and stuffs it with shrimp, oranges, butter, and lots of black pepper. It bakes until the shrimp are nice and pink and the smell calls everyone to the table. In desire of a really warm and filling dinner I took her idea and added my twist here and there to create this. This is a peel and eat shrimp so make sure you have a bowl ready for your shells and a towel for your hands! And don't forget some of Jessica's French Bread to soak up all the buttery juices on your plate.

    Baked Shrimp
    Shrimp- 2 lbs, shell on
    Orange- 1 large
    Butter- 1 and 1/2 sticks
    White wine- 1/2 cup
    Minced Garlic- 1 Tbsp
    Parsley- 2 Tbsp
    Johnny's Garlic Spread (optional)
    Thyme- 2 tsp
    Pepper- 2 tsp
    Salt- As desired

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash shrimp and place in a greased casserole dish. Season with garlic, parsley, Johnny's garlic spread, thyme, pepper, and salt. Pour white wine over shrimp. Cut the butter into chunks and place all over the top of the shrimp. Place orange slices on top and cover with foil. Bake for about 20 minutes or until shrimp are pink and the juices are bubbly. Serve with warm french bread.