Monday, May 18, 2015

Fire up the Grill


Man Crates

What makes a great cookout? That is the question that has been posed to me by the company Mancrates. 

Never heard of Mancrates? They are a company that makes really cool gifts for men. They fill a crate with products that just ooze manliness and then ship it to you with a crowbar for your fella to open up. 

In celebration of the start of BBQ season they have asked me to include some of my favorite things that really make a cookout special. 

Clearly, the food is super important. First, I love to have guests bring a side with them so everyone gets to have something they like regardless of food allergies and tastes. Not to mention everyone has the opportunity to try out new things. It doesn't hurt that this creates a little less work for the host or hostess! 

Some of my favorite sides I like to add to any BBQ get together include:



 







All of these have great flavor and go well with whatever the host is making for the main dish.

As far as logistics go, the outdoors need to be considered. I am not sure if citronella candles actually help keep bugs away, but they at least give you the illusion they might combat those nasty biting critters.  I am also a big fan of things that provide some shade. Whether it be an awning, a tarp or umbrella, it is needed for us ginger folk to enjoy the out of doors.

As far as providing refreshments, iced tea and lemonade are always a safe bet. People can drink them as is, mix them together for an Arnold Palmer or mix them with whatever libation they bring with them.

As with most meals, my favorite part is the dessert. I love a good fruit dessert after a great BBQ. Fruit desserts a sweet, but not too heavy and hit the spot after a great meal.



 





Any of these or even some grilled pineapple with ice cream is a delicious way to end your cookout or BBQ. I hope you make some of these as you fire up your grill this Memorial Day!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Thai Peanut Noodles


 

Thai curry paste is a superhero of flavor in any recipe you make. It reminds me of a bunch of clowns in a tiny car. Thai curry paste often comes in a petite little jar, but it has so much flavor and makes anything you cook taste like you put a ton of ingredients in it. The red paste is my favorite. It is spicy, tangy and it is so versatile in so many dishes.

One of my favorite ways to use this is with rice noodles with chicken and vegetables. The sauce is so yummy and rich but takes very little time to whip up. 

Try this out and you will love it!

Ingredients 


1 to 1 1/2 pounds of chicken breasts
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 green bell peppers, chopped 
3 Tablespoons red Thai curry paste
3 Tablespoons peanut butter
1 can of coconut milk
1 teaspoon chicken base
1 package of straight cut rice noodles
cilantro, chopped
red pepper flakes (optional)


Season both sides of the chicken breast with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in the vegetable oil. 

Brown both sides of the chicken until the outside is golden. You could cut the chicken into small pieces now, but I really think the meat stays the most tender and juicy when the meat is left whole until the end.


Remove the browned chicken from the pan and set aside for a few minutes. Add in the green pepper and saute for about 2 minutes. Add in the curry paste, peanut butter, coconut milk, and chicken base. Stir this until the mixture combines. Return the chicken to the pan, reduce the heat to medium low and cover until the meat is done on the inside. This should take about 15 minutes.


When the chicken is almost done soaking up all that yummy sauce, throw the rice noodles into boiling water. Cook these for only about 4 to 5 minutes, just until they are almost tender.


Once the rice noodles are done, take out the chicken and cut the meat into bite sized pieces. Add the noodles to the pot and stir the whole mixture together. If you want to add a little more spice, add in the red pepper flakes. 


Just before serving, add in the cilantro and give it one last stir. This is a great dish to spice up any weeknight meal!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies


Shortbread is one of my favorite cookies to serve people. They're never too sweet and they can be dressed up in all kinds of different ways to be extra special. Not to mention the butter flavor. Everyone likes butter. Well, good people like butter. 

This is my latest favorite way to make shortbread. I had read about putting Earl Grey tea into cookie dough. As a tea lover I thought it was a crazy idea to put loose tea into a cookie. As I would read the recipes the thought of gritty tea in my teeth made me cringe bit. However, many pinterest reviews couldn't be wrong, and they weren't. 

These cookies are fabulous. 

I am not usually a lover of Early Grey tea. It's just not my cup of tea.

However, in these cookies it is just fabulous. The lightly smoky flavor of the tea really comes through and there is absolutely no grit. 

Not even a little bit. 


Ingredients

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour 
2 teabags of Earl Grey tea


First, blend your softened butter with an electric mixer. Make sure it is light and fluffy. Then add in the sugar, and flour. Beat this for about 30 seconds on medium speed. 

Add in the flour and tea. Then mix by hand until the ingredients are just combined. 
 

 The dough will be a bit sticky, but don't be tempted to add more flour until you have let the dough chill. 


 You can either cover the bowl with plastic wrap or dump the whole pile into a sheet of the shiny stuff. Then let this chill for about 30 minutes to an hour. 


Take about 1 tablespoon of the dough and form a ball. Then squish the ball to form an even disk of the dough. 
 

Bake the cookies for about 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees just until the tops are barely golden.

These are just a perfect snack that will brighten your day!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Skinny Meatballs with Pasta

 
Pasta is one of those foods I could eat every day and probably not even notice it. Any sauce, any meat and I would not complain. It's easy, versitile and so, so delicious. 

It also allegedly makes you fat. 

Other than opting to wear elastic waistband pants at all times, the only other option is to change up what you serve it with. Obviously not eating pasta for me would just not work so this is a much better option.

These meatballs are a perfect way to make your pasta meal a bit easier on the scale. Many people think using ground chicken will make the meatballs dry and flavorless, but it couldn't be further from the truth. These meatballs are tender, juicy and so full of flavor.

Ingredients

1 pound of lean ground chicken
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 eggs
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 - 1/3 cup breadcrumbs (plain or seasoned)
1/4 cup milk
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
24 ounces marinara sauce
13 ounces of pasta cooked



To begin, combine the first 10 ingredients. Depending on how moist the meat is to start with, you may need more or less bread crumbs. Add the least amount first, and then adjust from there. The role of the breadcrumb is really to bind the whole thing together, not to dry out the meat. If you add too many bread crumbs, the meatballs will not be as moist and tender. 


Preheat the biggest sauce pan you have over medium heat. Add in the vegetable oil. Using a spoon, ice cream scoop or cookie scoop, place 2 to 4 tablespoons of the meatball mixture into the pan carefully. This should sizzle slightly when the meat is added to the pan. 
 

Cook the meatballs for about 5 minutes or until the meat is browned. 


Flip the meatballs over gently to brown the other side. This will take you a few shifts to get all the meatballs browned on each side. Make sure you do not get impatient and crowd the pan; this prevents the meatballs from getting a tasty crust on the outside. 


When all the meatballs have been browned, add them all back to the pan. Pour in the sauce gently and stir to ensure all the meatballs are covered. Let this simmer for about 20 minutes over low heat with the lid on the pan.
 

After 20 minutes, add the meatballs to a bowl of pasta and pour the sauce over the top. This is really a delicious and healthy meal you will love!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Hazlenut Tea Cookies



 

These cookies are one of the very first cookies I made all by myself. The recipe comes from an old Betty Crocker cookbook that is now being held together by duct tape. In the black and white picture, it shows a sweet little tea party for a few people with these as the center stage treat. As a kid it seemed like the coolest thing ever to have a tea party. According to Betty, these cookies were a requirement to even think about having a tea party. 

The cookies themselves really are delicious. Almost like a nutty shortbread, these buttery and sweet cookies are perfect any time. The crisp shortbread is flecked with tasty little hazelnuts that give the cookie something really special. You can easily substitute any nut you like for this. Pecans and walnuts work really well with the recipe.

As the name suggests these are just perfect to eat with a nice cup of tea or coffee. Regardless of what you have with these little gems, you will love them!

Ingredients
1 cup of butter, softened
1 cup of powdered sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup small chopped nuts

Combine 1/2 cup powdered sugar and butter together until there are no lumps in the batter. Add in the vanilla extract and stir until it is well combined. Add in the salt, flour and nuts. Mix only until combined. If you find the cookie dough is a bit dry, add a small splash of milk to help moisten the dough.

Form the dough into 2 tablespoon sized balls and place them onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. You will know the cookies are done when the tops are just lightly golden. 

Allow the cookies to fully cool. When the cookies have cooled completely, roll them in the remaining powdered sugar. I like to place all the cookies in a large Tupperware and pour the powdered sugar over. Close the Tupperware securely and give the whole thing a gently but thorough shake. 

 



Monday, March 2, 2015

Spicy Chicken Spaghetti

 

 When it comes to planning meals, I am usually on top of it. There's always a list of some kind and everything I need is on hand. However, when a snow storm hits and there is just no way I am going to the store a plan B must be made. 

That is how this really scrumptious chicken and spaghetti dish came together. I just took everything I had and threw it together. It was a fantastic plan B. The sauce is made with spicy green chile, diced tomatoes and a good helping of salty cheese. Combine that with crispy, tender chicken and it is a winning meal.

Ingredients
2 chicken breasts
3/4 cup plain bread crumbs
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans of green chile
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 pound spaghetti, cooked



 Cut the chicken into nugget sized pieces. Then season them with a little salt and pepper.



Pour the bread crumbs into a plastic bag. This makes coating the chicken so much easier and cleaner. 
 

Slide the chicken into the bag and close the top securely. Toss the chicken around in the bread crumbs until all of the chicken is well coated. 
 

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place the coated chicken into the pan. The meat should sizzle, but not roar. 


Brown the chicken, making sure it is golden and crusty on each side. Once the chicken is done, take it out of the pan and keep it off to the side. I kept mine warm in the toaster oven. 
 

Once the chicken has left the pan, add in the onions, garlic, tomatoes and green chile.  Let this simmer for about ten minutes. 


Add the hot pasta to the pan and toss to coat. Turn off the heat and add in the Parmesan cheese. If it seems a little dry, add some water and a few extra shakes of salt and pepper. 
 

When serving, add the chicken right on top of the pasta to keep the crust nice and crispy. You and your family will love this spicy treat!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pear Calfoutis Coffee Cake


 

I do really love desserts and sweet things, but not as much in the morning. Pastries, doughnuts, and coffee cakes are things I adore, but not until about three in the afternoon. 

A special exception is made when I am making breakfast for other people. Other people really enjoy a sweet treat in the morning, so I do make things like this for others. This pear coffee cake is really delicious and not too sweet. It is still morning after all. 

Clafoutis is a French dessert traditionally made with cherries. It's really just an upside down cake that is a little less sweet. This is so perfect for a brunch or breakfast menu dessert. It's lightly sweet with a puffy cake layer and a bit of fruit over the top. You can top this with maple syrup, honey, powdered sugar or enjoy it as is.

Either way it is a delicious treat to end a morning meal or as an afternoon snack.

Ingredients

1 pear
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons oil
1 cup of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda


Add the milk and vinegar to a large bowl. Let this sit for about ten minutes or until the milk has curdled. Then add in the remaining ingredients. Make sure to mix the batter gently to not crush the bubbles out of the mixture.


Trace a 9 inch cake pan around the outside edge on parchment paper. Cut out the cake pan's shape. Spray the cake pan with cooking spray and place the parchment circle in the center of the pan. Spray the parchment as well

Slice the pear and fan the pieces out into a circular shape. They do not need to be perfect. If the pattern comes out ugly, you can always serve it with a heavy covering of powdered sugar.


Pour the batter over the fruit. Spread the batter out gently so the bubbles are not squished and the cake comes out extra fluffy.


Bake the cake at 350 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the top is browned and a toothpick comes out of the center clean. As it cools, run a butter knife around the outside edge. Let the cake cool for about 15 to 20 minutes.


Once the cake has cooled for a bit, flip the pan onto a plate. Sprinkle the top with some powdered sugar or honey.


My husband, Tyler really loves to drizzle a bit of maple syrup over the top of this delicious cake. It's very similar to an upside down pancake we love at a favorite restaurant so it is a perfectly sweet topping.