Friday, July 31, 2015

The Beechwold Salad

Ok, here's the deal with this salad.

It is the most unusually delicious thing I have eaten all year. It is a strange, unusual combination of ingredients that you might not think of throwing together in one bowl. But trust me when I tell you that it is basically an entire farmer's market in one dish. All the sweet, creamy, salty, crunchy elements mingle together with a basic vinaigrette to create the experience that is the devouring of this salad.

I went to visit my sister Catherine a week ago and she took me to this cute little cafe that specializes in organic, fresh, healthy meal preparation. I ordered this salad because it sounded so different and was blown away by how much I loved it. The salad had everything: avocados, dates, roasted almonds, chicken, tomatoes, scallions, goat cheese, fresh corn, kale, napa cabbage, and a zippy champagne vinaigrette. A bowl full of awesome.

So, of course, I had to recreate it as soon as I got home.

I paid careful attention while I was eating it and this is my version of this amazing salad. I think I got it pretty darn close. We've enjoyed this for dinner two nights in a row this week because I can't stop eating it. So good.

Like all salads, it's a bit of a pain to make just because there is quite a bit of work involved with washing, drying, chopping, and dicing all the various components. I wait until Paul is home before I start working on it so the kids ambush him and leave me to chop alone in peace. It's great therapy until I hear the loud sucking noises coming from Lucy's swing as she angrily eats her fist ("hint hint MOM").

Bottom line: make this salad while you can still find beautiful corn, tomatoes, and avocados this summer. Guess what we're having again for dinner tonight? I have a feeling that Paul's going to need to compensate for this by grilling steak or brats this weekend. He likes my salads, but can only eat so many bowls of kale before his inner carnivore begins to scream for proper sustenance.

The Beechwold Salad
Inspired by the Northstar Cafe

For the Salad:
1 small head (2 pounds) napa cabbage, thinly shredded
1/2 bunch of kale, cleaned and stems removed, thinly shredded
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (use a rotisserie chicken or your favorite roasting method)
1 large tomato, diced fine
1 large avocado, diced fine
1 bunch of scallions, sliced on the bias (white and light green parts only)
4-5 whole dates, pits removed and diced
2 ears of corn, husked, and the kernels cut from the cob
3/4 cup roasted, salted almonds
4 ounces goat cheese (or feta if goat is not your thing)

For the Champagne Vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon pepper

Whisk the dressing together in a large salad bowl. Add the napa and kale and toss to coat completely. Let stand for about five minutes. Add the remaining salad ingredients and toss to coat. Garnish with additional almonds and cheese and serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What's in Emma's Purse?

My little Emma is a girly girl. She did not get this trait from me - I was so very the opposite when I was younger. Instead of dress-up and princesses, I preferred pretending I was Joe Hardy solving mysteries with my brother Frank (played by Michael and Raymond at different times). In fact, I remember getting really angry at my sister Catherine for obsessing over jewelry and make-up at a very young age because I had such an aversion to such things (ironically, Catherine now works for Chanel). I never even wanted to get my ears pierced until I was randomly talked into it during my sophomore year of high school.

But Emma! My goodness, if she goes a day without wearing a necklace, she cries herself to sleep. She spends a good 10 minutes selecting an outfit in the morning and another hour after that obsessing over what shoes to wear. She loves to wear bows in her hair even though she plays so rough and tumble that they barely stay attached to her hair. She raids my makeup bag on a regular basis and insists on wearing the reddest color of lipstick she can find. And now, she has started carrying her own purse (she has two that were gifted to her) and is thrilled that she can carrying her most prized possessions of the moment along with her as we go about our day.

When she came downstairs all dolled up for the day, I thought it would be fun for Emma to show us what she is carrying with her today.

Here is Emma with her purse and selected outfit for today. Note the Minnie Mouse slippers that she deemed worthy to wear with her sundress. Her reasoning? They are both pink. I am going to be in trouble later when I inform her that she cannot wear her slippers outside. But for now, we'll go with it. Notice also the yellow bow she stole from her sister Lucy ("Baby Woosie is sharing with me!" she declares).

She is also sporting her favorite necklace. Seven years ago, I wore that necklace when I was the Maid of Honor in my best friend's wedding. Now, Emma has officially claimed it as her own.

So, Emma. What's in your purse?

"Wook at my sunglasses. They're for my eyes. I put them on!"

Oh so lovely. What else is in your purse?

"My binky! It goes in my mouth! There's water in there. I wear it like this!"

I hate to inform her that it is not a binky but rather a broken teething toy. And she has never ever used a binky but for some reason really likes the idea of one now that Lucy is around (even though Lucy does not use a binky either although I sometimes wish she would!).

Alright Emma...what's the last thing you have there in your purse?

"My toys! I need toys when I go in the car! Wook at my big ring! For my finger!"

And of course she pulls out Lucy's rattle. Which is a pretty bling baby rattle. That certainly explains why Emma likes it so much.

So there you have it! Today's accessories of my two-year-old. And where was she going so dressed up and fancy? To bed for her afternoon nap! No, really. She has been wearing her purse to bed, tucked tightly under her arm. Sometimes she sleeps with her sunglasses on. That girl is ready for anything.

Never a dull moment with these beautiful kids!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Grilled Peach Shortcakes

This past weekend, Lucy and I headed out of town to spend a couple days with my sisters while Paul watched Matthew and Emma. I was shocked by the number of people who seemed genuinely surprised that I would leave two of my children alone with their father. Maybe it has something with how fathers are always portrayed in the media as inept, bone-headed, man children who are completely incapable of being responsible parents. Sure, they may give their best attempt, but utter chaos always ensues. I can assure you that for as much as I like to poke fun at my Paul, he is more than capable of taking care of the children all by his lonesome.

My brother 18-year-old brother Mark had the complete opposite reaction. He could not believe that I was taking Lucy with me. The conversation went something like this:

Mark: "So are you looking forward to a weekend without the kids?"
Me: "Well, I'll still have Lucy with me."
Mark: "Lucy? You're bringing her with you!?"
Me: "Well...yeah."
Mark: "Oh. Are you still breastfeeding her?"
Me: "She's only 9 weeks old! Of course I'm still breastfeeding her!"
Mark: "Oh. How long do you keep doing that?"
Me: "About a year."
Mark: "A year!!?"

You would never have guessed that Mark is one of eleven children. You'd think he'd know that where mommy goes, the baby shall be attached to her hip for the first 12 months of life.

Lucy and I had a grand time with all the sisters - we wined, we dined, we shopped. It was a great break for me! When I returned home, I was so pleased to hear that Paul's weekend had been just as great with the kids. He had taken them to the lake, the zoo, out for breakfast, and out for ice cream. Emma informed me that she had even driven a motor boat at the lake and Matthew had enjoyed his first time tubing! After hearing about all their adventures, I was beginning to worry that the kids would find me boring after all the fun times and sweet treats they had just enjoyed with their daddy. But not really. I was happy that he had spent the time bonding with them - it was such a good weekend for him too!

Lucy was so happy to see her daddy again after a weekend away. I had missed him a bit myself..

When I returned home, Paul was grilling a delicious dinner of pork chops and salad. He also planned to serve a grilled peach cobbler. He grilled the peaches with brown sugar and butter, then peeled and chopped the peaches before tossing them in their own syrupy juices. He served the peaches with freshly baked sugar biscuits and generous scoops of pistachio ice cream. Oh my, this was heavenly! Paul and I inhaled our portions - we loved this so much! The kids for some reason were much more dainty and slow in their dessert eating that night, but they licked their plates clean as well! I told Paul that he should make a grilled cobbler every Sunday. It was such a great, low-fuss dessert, and the grilled flavor in the fruit was awesome. I can't wait for him to make this again.

Grilled Peach Shortcakes
from the Weber Grill Cookbook

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
½ cup half-and-half, cold

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
4 large freestone peaches, firm but ripe, cut in half lengthwise, pits removed
¼ cup packed golden brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a large bowl combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt, and blend well. Add the butter and mix with a fork or a pastry blender just until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add the half-and-half and gently stir it in (the mixture will be crumbly). Then use your hands to mix the dough quickly and gently in the bowl just until it comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Lightly dust your hands with flour and gently pat out the dough to about ¾ inch thick. Dip a round biscuit cutter, 2½ to 3 inches in diameter, in flour and cut out rounds of dough. Gather scraps of dough and pat out, using a light touch so you don’t overwork the dough; cut to make a total of eight shortcakes. Place the shortcakes about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with the melted butter. Bake the shortcakes for 15-20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350-450 degrees F).

Brush the cooking grates clean. Sprinkle the cut side of the peach halves with the brown sugar. Grill the peach halves, cut side up, over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, until the sugar melts and the peaches are soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Carefully remove from the grill and pour the melted brown sugar from the peaches into a medium bowl.

Pull the charred skin off the peaches and discard. Cut the peaches into bite-sized pieces and add them to the bowl with the melted brown sugar. Gently toss to coat. Split each shortcake horizontally and top each bottom half with equal portions of the peaches. Add the shortcake tops and garnish with a generous scoop of ice cream (we loved pistachio!).

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Funny Things Kids Say

Kids are natural comedians. They are seriously hilarious and can keep you in stitches all day long. The reason they are so funny is because they say the cutest, most ridiculous things (mispronouncing most of the words with their sweet little voices) with complete seriousness. Paul and I are never without entertainment with our chatty kiddos around. This week, I wrote down a few things that happened that I found particularly funny. These quotes might be funny to me only because I'm their mother, but either way, I thought I would share!


One morning, Emma began examining the very large mole I have on my left arm and then asked: "Mommy, did I spill coffee on you right here?"


Me: "Emma, you are gorgeous!"
Emma: "No, I'm Emma!"

I was walking past the bathroom on my way to the laundry room when I spied Matthew staring at himself in the vanity mirror while opening his mouth as wide as he could.

"Matthew, what are you doing?"
"I'm looking for my second mouth. It's stuck in my throat, I think!"
"Your second mouth?"
"Yes. Like the Moray eel. It has two mouths and I'm just trying to find my other mouth."

You know, he's right about those eels!


Paul and I are sitting on the couch talking when Matthew wanders in with his hand on his chest:
"I can feel my heart beating!"
Paul takes Matthew's hand and places it on the side of his neck: "You can also feel your heart beating in your neck, Matthew."
Matthew perks up: "Yes! Because I have two hearts!"
Paul: *Facepalm*


Paul called me on my cell while I was out driving to the store with Emma. I answered it in the usual fashion: "Hi Honey!"
From the backseat, Emma says: "Daddy's not honey!"
Me: "Daddy is my honey, Emma!"
Emma, with a frantic voice: "No! Please don't eat Daddy, Mommy!"


Emma's Version of "Baa Baa Black Sheep"

Blaah Blaah Black Sheep have you any wool?
Yes Sir, Yes Sir, tree bags hole
One for ma master and one for the name,
one for the name,
one for the name,
one for the name,
one for the name....

...and repeat about 100 more times before she starts the song over. 
It's great fun when she starts singing this in the car.


Matthew and I took Lucy to the doctor for her her 2-month appointment while Paul stayed home with a napping Emma. Lucy had to get three shots in her thigh during that visit. The nurses tried to get Matthew to leave the room while they administered the shots to Lucy but he wanted to stay with her. (I asked if Matthew was staying then perhaps they could remove me from the room since I hate watching my babies get their shots, but they just laughed at me). Anyway, right before they gave Lucy her first shot, I told Matthew to start talking to Lucy to distract and comfort her. So, Matthew stroked Lucy's head while saying, "Oh it's a really BIG needle Lucy. Really, really big! This is going to hurt a lot!"
"Matthew! That's not exactly comforting. Say something else! Sing to her or play peek-a-boo."
"Ok. Peek-a-Boo! Lucy, you need to get your shots or else you will die. You don't want to die, do you?"

The kid is no Florence Nightingale.


After removing Emma's flip-flops while getting her ready for bed one night, she noticed the "V-shaped" impressions the shoes left on her little fat feet and began to panic. With tears beginning to well up in her eyes, she pointed at her feet and cried: "Look, Mommy! I have a crack in my feet!!!"

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Blog Hoppin'

Hello Friends!

Today, you can find this delinquent blogger guest posting over at Waltzing in Beauty. This is the blog of my friend Christina who just married the love of her life three weeks ago. As she honeymoons and settles down into her new role as a Mrs, she has asked several blogging friends to guest post for her in a marriage series entitled What I Wish I Knew Before I Got Married. I wrote a little piece about cooking trial and error in the early days of my marriage and shared a recipe for White Chocolate Raspberry Blondies.

Care to read more? Head on over to Waltzing in Beauty!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Pork Chops with Fresh Cherry Salsa

Cherry season is much-celebrated around these parts but also so short-lived! It seems like the cherries are ready for the picking one day and then completely gone and nowhere to be found the next! When the first round of cherries began hitting the stores a couple weeks ago, I thought the price was so decent that I went a little crazy and bought a few pounds worth. I brought them home and everyone was eager to dive in and try some. They were not good. Pretty tasteless actually. If I had been blindfolded and fed one of those cherries, I might have guessed that it was a black olive. Needless to say, I was disappointed and resolved to not waste any more money on bad fruit.

A week or so after that, we decided to take a family drive to small historical town about an hour away. We parked and took along walk about the cute little town, soaking in the history of the place. The kids grew a bit cranky and thirsty (since it was blisteringly hot), so we stopped at a small grocery store to pick up some refreshments. Inside, they had a bunch of sweet cherries on sale for a shockingly low price. They looked gorgeous and I could not resist buying about five bags. However, this time they were the most delicious local cherries I have ever tried. I was so happy we bought so many of them! We have been enjoying them as a healthy snack for a while now.

I did want to experiment a bit with the cherries since we had them and decided to make a fresh cherry salsa to serve alongside our pork chops for dinner. It was a great compliment to the pork - the sweetness in the cherries was a nice accent to the natural sweetness of the meat and the acidity of the lemon juice and balsamic vinegar in the salsa made everything taste so fresh and healthy! I loved this meal. It was a great way to dress up a basic, boneless pork chop! The kids were also pretty wild about the "cherry sauce." Served with a chopped salad and some fresh vegetables, it was a perfect summer meal.

Pork Chops with Fresh Cherry Salsa
adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

4-6 boneless pork chops
Salt and Pepper
1-1/2lbs cherries, pitted and roughly chopped in a food processor
1/2 cup minced red onion
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the pork chops, prepare a brine using the proportions of 1 tablespoon of table salt + 1 tablespoon sugar for every 1 cup of water. Whisk vigorously to dissolve the sugar and salt. Submerge the chops in the brine and allow to sit for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours. Remove, pat dry with paper towels, and then season with pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Preheat the broiler of the oven at the same time. Sear the chops 1-2 minutes on each side, just until lightly browned. Then, transfer the chops to the oven to cook under the broiler until the internal temperature reads 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Let the chops rest, tented with foil, for 10 minutes before serving.

For the salsa, combine all the ingredients together in a bowl. Serve generous portions of the salsa spooned over a pork chop. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sweet Little Things

I don't feel beautiful most days. Normally, I barely squeeze in a shower before throwing my hair up into a bun or ponytail and going about my day. Makeup is normally minimal. When I do wear earrings, they are simple studs. Maybe a pair of hoops if I'm feeling dangerous (my kids love to attempt to pull my earrings out while I hold them). My attire is workout gear 90% of the time since those are my version of  "play clothes" - items I do not worry about soiling while out with the very, very dirty children. Functional? Yes. Beautiful? No.

However, I am so blessed to have children who feel the need to tell me I'm beautiful every single day.  My husband already does that, but he doesn't really count because that's his job (sorry honey!). But the kids are so blunt and so pure in their thoughts that you know they firmly believe it when they say it! After I am done dressing for the day and come downstairs, Matthew always tells me: "Mommy, you look beautiful today!" Emma, while watching me apply a bit of makeup, likes to cheer me on: "My Mommy is so beautiful!"

Matthew has also been known to serenade me with One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful." Emma, after putting on a pretty dress or adorning herself with jewelry, will declare: "I look beautiful! Like Mommy!"

They're the sweetest little people, I'm telling you.

"Leave me alone!!" That's what Lucy's thinking.

Even the sweetest of siblings are capable of much mischief and teasing when it comes to their little baby sister. The other day, I let Matthew hold Lucy so I could do a few chores. When I got back into the room, he had outfitted her with a tiny plastic cowboy hat. He thought that was the most hilarious thing. Poor Lucy was not quite as amused.

"Stop Taking a Picture and HELP me, Woman!"

Emma, on the other hand, is a little more violent in her teasing and can never be trusted alone with the baby. She has developed the habit of gently trying to touch Lucy's eyeball while singing super obnoxiously: "Loo-SEE-AHHH!! Wittle Loo-see-AHHH!" Last week, Lucy was diagnosed with conjunctivitis. I wonder how she could have possibly contracted that...

Matthew and Emma also save some of that teasing and mischievous behavior for one another. Paul and I were mattress shopping the other day - finally biting the bullet and getting a new one after dealing with a sink hole in the middle of our bed for the past three years! We were up at our local Sam's Club of all places and the kids were having a blast helping us lay down on all the different mattress options. Well, one of the mattresses was set up next to the TV and electronics and one of the high-definitions televisions was playing Big Hero 6. So, Matthew decided to lie down on this particular mattress so he could watch the television while Paul and I discussed our options. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Emma suddenly get this ridiculously evil look in her eye and tiptoe towards her unaware brother. She climbed up on the mattress, gently sneak up behind him, and then she bodyslammed him, using every bit of her 30-something pounds of pure lard.

"Ahhh! EMMA! STOP!" Matthew cried as mighty Emma began to wrap her legs around his neck and hold his arms down. Pretty soon, the two of them were nothing more than a tangle of arms and legs rolling all over the mattress. We eventually had to break up the wrestling match that ensued before someone called security (or at least before one of them catapulted off the mattress and split their head open!). Needless to say, our in-store mattress browsing ended there and we ended up ordering an untested mattress online. Fingers crossed that it actually works out.

So, I guess the point of this pointless post is that there is never a dull moment with these ridiculously sweet little people all about!

Lucy is really not into taking pictures quite yet.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Spicy Pasta Salad with Smoked Gouda, Tomatoes, and Basil

This summer has been fairly disappointing so far. Granted, a lot has happened over the past couple months, but I still feel as if we have not been enjoying enough "summery" activities! For one, the weather has been absolutely atrocious. Lots and lots of rain. The days where it has not rained have been gorgeous, but the many, many downpours we have experienced have put a major damp-er (haha) in my summer plans for the kids. There have been fewer hikes, pool days, bike rides, park play dates, and beach picnics. I had big plans to take the family to the drive-in this weekend, but it looks like there might be rain then too. Drat.

Matthew is perfectly content sitting inside and playing LEGOS. He's always been a bit of a couch potato.

Emma likes to sit at Paul's desk and tell me: "I'm working!"

However, the greatest disappointment has been the damage to the local produce. One of my favorite activities is picking berries and fruit during the summer months. However, due to the incredibly slow warm-up from the winter months experienced this year combined with the heavy amounts of rainfall, many of the crops were destroyed and picking was not an option. Strawberry season was incredibly short-lived and we missed the only opportunity to visit the fields because we were out of town. Peaches, cherries, and nectarines are all abysmally low in production. And finally the blueberries - my favorite summer berry to pick - will be available in limited quantities as well. My heart is broken!

However, we still will just have to make use with what we have available - which is still plenty more than the majority of the world!

My grocery highlight this week - snagging a precious little basil plant for 49 cents! I used it to make this fantastic pasta salad with grape tomatoes and smoked gouda. Oh my, this was fabulous. I love pasta salads and would readily eat just a big plateful as my dinner and feel perfectly satisfied. In fact, I tried to pass this off as a main dish but my carnivore husband insisted on serving some brats alongside. Good thing he did too, because our children were a bit picky about it. Matthew picked out the tomatoes but wouldn't touch the pasta. Emma ate the pasta but fed her tomatoes to Matthew.

It's a super simple fancy - no real frills or fancy foods in it. It's just pasta mixed with tomatoes, gouda cheese, basil, and a simple dressing made up of mayo and adobo sauce. The adobo sauce is honestly what makes the dish. The smoky flavor is a great complement to the cheese and tomatoes. The basil adds a nice herbaceous flavor that both freshens and rounds out the dish. A great salad that can be a main dish (if you're an herbivore) or a perfect picnic side dish (if you're a carnivore and need to eat something with a bone attached). The leftovers are great too. In fact, that's what I'm munching on as I type this out. So good.

Spicy Pasta Salad with Smoked Gouda, Tomatoes, and Basil
adapted slightly from the Pioneer Woman

12 ounces penne pasta
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I used light)
1/4 cup whole milk
4 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons Adobo Sauce from a can of Chipotle Peppers (I upped this a bit)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper to taste
2 pounds grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/2 pound smoked Gouda, shredded
24 whole Basil Leaves, chiffonade

Cook pasta in four quarts of boiling water with 1 tablespoon of table salt until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water until no longer hot.

Mix mayonnaise, milk, vinegar, salt, pepper, and adobo in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, stir together pasta, dressing, halved tomatoes, and Gouda. Taste for seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed (it definitely needed some). I also added another tablespoon of vinegar because I love it. Stir in basil at the end. Refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Puerto Rican-Style Pink Beans and Rice

One week ago, we traveled to Kentucky to witness my little, big-eared brother Raymond wed his beautiful longtime girlfriend Mary. The wedding Mass was beautiful and produced many, many tears from yours truly - and I am normally not a crier! I did not bring my camera for the event since both Paul and I were in the wedding party and I knew that I would not want to be lugging it around the whole day. However, when I get my hands on some pictures I will share them!

We broke the trip to Louisville up over two nights since we did not know how Lucy would travel. Her siblings are awesome car travelers - they did not complain once when we drove to Montana for 24 hours straight - but we did not want to assume that Lucy would be just as fabulous (for the record, she was a complete rockstar!). So, we stopped at my sister's house which was conveniently located halfway between our home and the wedding location and visited with her and her new-ish husband before carpooling to the wedding together. For our visit, Catherine wanted to introduce us to some Puerto Rican cuisine since she has now married into a Puerto Rican family and has been trying her best to please her hubby by cooking some meals from his culture. One of the dishes she made for us can accurately be described as a fried plantain "lasagna" - with layers of fried plantains, chorizo sausage, olives, and cheese. It was unusually delicious.

The other dish she made was meant to be more of a side dish, but I loved it so much that I had to make a version of it soon after we arrived home. It was a bean dish with chorizo, pink beans, potato, and sofrito. It was meant to be served over rice and made a fantastic accompaniment to the meal. However, it was definitely substantial enough to stand as a meal all its own. When we got back to Erie, I found some leftover Chorizo sausage in our freezer and bought some pink beans, sofrito, bell pepper, and olives to make a version of that delicious dish.

I used mexican chorizo - which is uncooked and has a "loose" texture similar to ground beef - but any type of chorizo will work. I browned that along with the bell pepper and an entire small jar of sofrito - which is way more than we were told to use but Paul and I liked the flavor of it so much that we just decided to dump the entire thing in there. I also threw in a half teaspoon each of garlic powder, oregano, coriander and cumin. After everything was cooked, I stirred in two cans of undrained pink beans and brought everything to a simmer. The entire house smelled delicious as the beans cooked for another 20 minutes before serving.

We made some rice to serve the beans the traditional way but we also had the brilliant idea to make nachos with a portion of the mixture. We simply layered some chips, beans, and shredded cheese onto a baking sheet and broiled until the cheese was melted. The result? The best nachos ever. The kids loved them!

Thanks Catherine for the inspiration! I know our method was probably far from auténtico, but the results were still so fantastic that it shan't be long until we make this again! Sometimes, simple and homey meals are the best.

Puerto Rican-Style Pink Beans and Rice

1/2 pound chorizo sausage
1/2 large green bell pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 small jar sofrito
2 cans pink beans, undrained
2 cups hot cooked white rice

Brown the sausage along with the bell pepper, spices, and sofrito over medium heat until cooked through - about 10 minutes. Add the undrained beans, give everything a good stir, reduce the heat and allow everything to simmer for about 20 minutes. Be sure to stir and scrape the pot often to avoid scorching. Serve over the hot rice OR spoon evenly over chips, top with shredded cheese, and broil until the cheese melts.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Chicken Cordon Bleu - The Easy Way!

Chicken Cordon Bleu is one of those old-school recipes that is a real pain to make. There is nothing worse then trying to stuff ham and cheese into an uncooperative piece of chicken. Actually, scratch that. There is nothing worse than spending copious amounts of time meticulously stuffing your chicken only to have the filling run out all over the pan and burn. A true occasion for tears.

This is precisely why I make Chicken Cordon Bleu in casserole form. Now, I normally am not a huge casserole fan because most casserole recipes involve throwing together a lot of canned or pre-made ingredients and the end result is normally watery and bland. The only casserole that I could probably eat continuously is the iconic tuna casserole with canned cream of mushroom soup, tuna, mayonnaise and lots of cheese. I even tried making a fancy version of tuna casserole that nixed all the canned ingredients in favor of a bechamel sauce but it just did not hit the spot. However, with the exception of tuna casserole, all other casseroles normally leave me underwhelmed.

However, this Chicken Cordon Bleu casserole is prepared with all fresh ingredients to become a dish that is truly crave-worthy. It is probably one of Paul's favorite meals (at least I'm pretty sure it is in his Top 10). Layers of potatoes, chicken, and ham are tossed in a creamy swiss cheese sauce and then topped with fresh breadcrumbs. The entire concoction is then baked until all the flavors have melded together into a bubbly, comforting dish with all the flavors of chicken cordon bleu but NONE of the painful prep work. Paul has claimed that this is even better than the classically prepared chicken cordon bleu. Score! No more stuffing chicken.

Give this recipe a try and it might just become your new favorite casserole recipe! This is also a great take-in meal.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole
from Cover and Bake

For the Topping:
4 slices good-quality white sandwich bread, torn into quarters (Pepperidge Farm works great)
2 tablespoons butter, melted

For the Filling:
3 pounds russet potatoes (about 4-5 medium), peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup heavy cream or milk
6 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded, about 2 cups (we love Jarslberg!)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat and sliced thinly
9 ounces deli ham, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves (optional - we almost never add this)

For the topping, process the bread and butter in a food processor until coarsely ground. Set aside.
For the filling, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, making sure the oven rack is in the middle. Place the potatoes, 6 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are partially cooked, about 2 minutes (don’t overcook because they will continue to cook in the oven!). Carefully drain potatoes, or remove them with a slotted spoon, and transfer them to a bowl. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until the onions are softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute (this helps cook out the flour taste in the roux). Slowly whisk in the chicken broth and the cream or milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking often, until slightly thickened (if using milk instead of cream, you may have to cook longer for it to thicken up a bit). Off the heat, whisk in the Swiss cheese, Dijon, and cayenne pepper until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside until ready to use.

Toss the potatoes with half of the sauce and spread into the bottom of a lightly greased 9x13-inch glass baking pan. Layer alternating pieces of the chicken and ham over the potatoes, overlapping as needed. Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the chicken and sprinkle with the bread crumb topping. Bake until the chicken is cooked through and the casserole is bubbling, about 30-35 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley if desired and cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Biscuits and Gravy Breakfast Bake

For Father's Day, I almost always make Paul biscuits, sausage gravy, and eggs. It is not only his favorite breakfast, but probably one of his favorite meals overall. Personally, I don't get it. I love biscuits, I love gravy, but I'm not really wild about pouring a whole mess of sloppy sausage gravy over my biscuits and making them soggy. However, I have to admit that since marrying Paul the whole concept has really grown on me. It is certainly a very homey, comforting dish. I appreciate how easy it is to make. I love recipes that are quick, easy, and guaranteed to please the wonderful husband who gladly puts up with eating my frou-frou food 90% of the time.

I made fresh biscuits to go with the sausage gravy and eggs on Father's Day but, as usual, I made way too much gravy. The biscuits and eggs were all gobbled up and I still had about two cups of delicious sausage gravy. Feeling lazy and not wanting that good stuff to go to waste, I made breakfast for dinner and "reinvented" our biscuits and gravy into a casserole form. Basically, I was looking for a way to avoid making fresh biscuits all over again. I'll pull the baby card once more and blame Lucy for my lack of motivation in the kitchen recently.

So here's the deal with this casserole. You can throw it together in about the amount of time it takes your oven to preheat. It uses refrigerated biscuit dough, but I imagine you could also make fresh biscuit dough. However, that would definitely take away from the ease factor and, in my opinion, you might as well make traditional biscuits and gravy.

Anyway, after about five minutes of prep and 30-40 minutes of baking time, you have a delicious breakfast casserole that should appeal to just about everyone. Our entire family loved it - there were absolutely no complaints from the kids whereas the same gravy concoction, when eaten in deconstructed form the day before, spawned an entire symphony of "yuck" "eww" and "I won't eat that bad sauce stuff." This is probably one of only two meals we have had recently where some coaxing was not required to try to get the kids to eat everything on their plate. The other meal is smoked salmon with oranges and arugula. Yes, I know. We have trouble getting our kids to eat homemade cheeseburgers, string cheese, and apple pie, but smoked fish they go for. Our kids are weird.

A side salad of arugula, toasted pecans, blueberries, and cilantro-lime vinaigrette rounded out the meal. Delicious.

I will definitely be making this recipe again. It is a great way to use up leftover sausage gravy, but honestly is also a fantastic dish to make on it's own. I could see this being a great casserole to make on Christmas morning. I suggested that to Paul and his face lit up. I have a feeling that's probably what we'll end up doing this year.

Biscuits and Gravy Breakfast Bake
adapted from Just a Pinch

For the Sausage Gravy:
1 pound hot breakfast sausage
1/3 cup flour
4 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground black pepper (add to taste)

For the Breakfast Bake:
12 ounces biscuit dough (or 1 can Pillsbury Grands! biscuits)
6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Pinch of Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the sausage gravy, brown  the sausage in a skillet over medium-high heat until no longer pink, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add in half of the 1/3 cup of flour and stir until it is completely absorbed. Add the remaining flour and continue to stir for another minute or two until completely cooked. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. When all the milk is added, switch over to a whisk and stir/scrape the pot continuously for another 2-3 minutes.

Cook the gravy, stirring frequently, until it thickens. This usually takes a while, around 15 minutes or so. Be patient! Once the gravy is thick, add in the salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference. Set aside until ready to use or let it cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for a few days.

To make the breakfast bake, break the biscuit dough into 1-inch pieces and scatter over the bottom of a 13x9 glass baking pan. Sprinkle the cheese over the top of the dough. Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper and then pour over the biscuits. Dot 2-3 cups of the sausage gravy over the entire top. Slide into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until lightly brown, puffed, and cooked all the way through. Let stand for about 10 minutes before serving.