Thursday, June 27, 2013

Salsa Verde Fresca

When I was weeding my garden over the weekend, I found the cutest little jalapeno pepper growing.  It was just big enough to pick, which made me very excited.  It's all I could think about for the last 4 days.  Well, not really.  I have thought of other things, but whenever I have thought about my garden, I've thought of that pepper.  And, the nice green onions that are coming up so well.  I've thought about those a lot, too.  Plus, the lettuce - it's almost ready for the first cutting.  As you can see, I have a whole green theme going here.   I don't think I can express how much I love fresh produce, and knowing it comes from my garden makes it even better.  Much as I hate weeding and watering it, the reward is so worth it.

As I mentioned the other day, we have had some very warm weather lately, and I don't mind it, at all.  I just think about wintertime here, how we beg and plead for summer to come, and it keeps me from complaining about the heat.  One nice thing about summer is all of the fresh, quick dishes that can be made from the produce that's in abundance now.  A favorite of mine it pico de gallo, but my tomatoes aren't even close yet.  However, I was really in the mood for something like that tonight.  Then I decided to try my hand at salsa verde.

Most salsa verde recipes call for cooking it, or roasting the tomatillos.  I like it that way, but didn't want to mess with all that.  I wanted all the ingredients fresh and crisp, instead.  It makes for a refreshing change.

Here's your Cast of Characters (which includes the jalapeno pepper and green onions from my garden).

8 - 10 Bright green tomatillos
1 Bunch of cilantro
3 - 4 Various chile peppers - whatever heat level you desire (I used my little jalapeno, a red fresno pepper and 2 Amarillo peppers - deseeded & deveined - unless you want more heat.  I left some in for a little kick.)
2 Large green onions, or 1 small onion
3 Cloves garlic
1/4 Cup lime juice
1 1/2 Teaspoons kosher salt

First, remove husks from tomatillos, and wash well in cold water, to remove the stickiness from them.

Quarter the tomatillos and peppers, and add to a food processor, along with everything else, except the lime juice and salt. 

Pulse for a minute or two, until chopped pretty well.

Add lime juice and salt.  Pulse for another couple of minutes.

Serve immediately with chips, or refrigerate for an hour or so to let the flavors marry.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bacon-Wrapped Smoked Chicken

We have had several days of 85+ degree weather, plus we've now passed the day that officially marks summer, and we're firmly entrenched in my son's baseball season.  All of these things signal one important event - grill weather!  I know I've said this before, but I really mean it this time.  My house just gets too darn hot to do much cooking in it.  So, I have to get creative with my grill skills.

I've also decided to share my current obsession with you - using wood chips on my grill.  I have been experimenting with apple wood, cherry wood and Jack Daniel's whiskey barrel chips, and still haven't decided which is my favorite.  The apple wood sends a good steak over the edge into greatness, and the cherry wood makes pork chops awesome.  And, the Jack Daniel's chips?  Well, the Jack Daniel's chips, along with bacon, bring plain old chicken to the forefront of any table!  Something in those whiskey-soaked pieces of wood transforms chicken into something divine.

One thing that I should mention, so that no one gets scared, is how easy it is to grill with wood chips.  I simply buy a throwaway foil brownie pan and fill it half-full with the wood of my choice.  Place it on the grill over high heat until the chips start to smoke, then turn down to medium.  You want to keep them smoking without burning.  Nothing to it!

Here's your Cast of Characters.

1 Whole roasting chicken, with giblet bag thrown away
1 Package of bacon
1 Small onion
2 Cloves of garlic
Lawry's season salt
Black Pepper
Mrs. Dash Onion & Herb seasoning blend
McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb seasoning blend
Jack Daniel's Whiskey Barrel Wood Chips (or your favorite wood)

Preheat grill to 400 degrees.  Place a foil pan, half-full of wood chips, on one side of the grill.

Peel onion and garlic cloves, but leave them whole.  Stuff the chicken with them.  Sprinkle chicken with the seasonings, going lightly on the Lawry's.  Then, cover chicken with bacon, using toothpicks to hold in place.  Don't worry about wrapping the back of chicken with bacon - it will only burn.

Place chicken on the grill, and leave both burners going for 30 minutes.  Turn burner off directly under chicken, but leave heat going on medium on the side with the wood chips.  Try to maintain a temp around 300 to 325 degrees.  Continue cooking chicken for about 3 hours, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 165 degrees.

Remove chicken to a platter and let rest for about 10 minutes before carving.

The bacon will stick to some spots but crumble in others.  Don't worry about it.  Just serve it along with the chicken.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lemon Parmesan Quinoa Salad

As I sit here typing, I am listening to the dog bark at the neighbor's fireworks display and the low babble of Transformers on the tv.  What I'm missing, though, is the conversations with my husband and kids, who are in Canada and at camp, respectively.  Chris should be back late tomorrow night and the kids on Saturday morning, but in the meantime I miss the noise that I often complain about.  Last night was my first night alone and the house was entirely too quiet.  I simply didn't know what to do with myself.  Finally, I settled in on the couch, grabbed my laptop and spent some time working on my much-neglected book.  I have had an extreme case of writer's block for about 9 months, and have not written a word.  Last night, in the silence of the house, I wrote half a page.  That may not seem like a lot, but when I have struggled to write one word, 357 of them was awesome!  So, I am going to keep the post short tonight, so I can spend some more time writing...hopefully.

Over the weekend, I decided to make a salad from quinoa.  I couldn't find a recipe that really piqued my interest, so I came up with one myself.  I focused on lemon, broccoli and Parmesan. 

Here's your Cast of Characters.

1 1/2 Cups uncooked quinoa
1 Large lemon
1 Cup lemon juice (including freshly squeezed juice from lemon)
2 Cups water
Freshly ground pepper
4 Oz bag of frozen broccoli
3 Large green onions

1 Cup Heavy Cream
1 Cup Mayo (not salad dressing or Miracle Whip)
1 Cup Parmesan (I used a nice Parmesan & Garlic blend that I found at Walmart but plain is fine)
Zest of the lemon above
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tsp., each, Lawry's season salt, Mrs. Dash Onion & Herb blend and McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb blend
1/2 Tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/8 Cup sugar

In a medium saucepan, toast quinoa on medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add lemon juice and water, as well as a couple of cranks of pepper.  Cover and cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, stir together all dressing ingredients.

Set aside for now.

Steam broccoli until partially cooked to a crisp-tender.  Drain, and cut up any large pieces. 

Chop green onions into small pieces.

When quinoa is done, place in a medium mixing bowl.  Add broccoli, green onions and dressing.

Stir well, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving, however it's better to give it 2 - 3 hours for the flavors to properly blend.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Linguine with Shrimp and Southwest Pesto

Have you ever wanted to dig a hole and crawl in it?  That's how I feel today.  I'm really not fit company for man, nor beast.  I think it's because I'm overly tired.  My husband is gone all week, fishing in Canada, and I don't sleep well when he's not here.  So, my solution has been to stay up until I, literally, can't keep my eyes open any longer.  That way I don't lay in bed, tossing and turning, however it's starting to take a toll on me.  Sometimes when I'm this tired, I get extremely silly.  Other times, like now, I just get grumpy. 

 Why am I sharing this with you?  Well, when I get like this, I want comfort food, which means pasta.  But, I didn't want anything that was going to take too long, or be really heavy.  Pesto is the perfect answer - it's simple and comes together very quickly.  I was in the mood for cilantro, though, so I decided to make a southwest pesto.  All the fresh ingredients combined for a wonderful, summery pasta dish!

Here's your Cast of Characters.

1 Box of linguine
1 - 12 Oz. bag frozen, medium shrimp, precooked and tails off
2 Bunches of cilantro
2 Small (or 1 large) jalapenos, seeded and deveined (unless you want some heat)
2 Cloves of garlic
Zest and juice of 1 small lime
1 Container of cherry tomatoes
1/2 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. Kosher salt
1/2 Tsp. McCormick Perfect Pinch Southwest Sweet and Smoky seasoning
1 Tsp. McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb seasoning
Sprinkle of Lawry's Chile & Garlic seasoning salt (or regular Lawry's)
1/2 Cup reserved pasta water

Thaw shrimp and set aside.  In a food processor, chop jalapenos and garlic, pulsing a few times.

Next, add cilantro and process on high until coarsely chopped.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil and cook linguine according to package directions.

Back to the cilantro mixture, add lime zest and juice, salt, garlic & herb seasoning and southwest seasoning.  Pulse 2 or 3 times.

When pasta has about 6 minutes left, heat shrimp up with a tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkling of Lawry's.

In the processor, add tomatoes, olive oil and pasta water that you have just taken from the pot.  Process on high until thoroughly chopped and combined.

Drain pasta; add shrimp and pesto.

Stir well to coat pasta evenly.

Serve immediately.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Broccoli Slaw with Orange Poppy Seed Dressing

Have you ever eaten a food for the first time and loved it so much that you wondered where it had been all your life?  Of course you have!  I think we've all had that moment, at least once.  I, personally, have many of those moments, and the latest one came from an unexpected place:  Walmart.  I was in their produce department a couple of months ago, looking for one of their complete salads in a bag, when I discovered a new one - a broccoli slaw salad with orange dressing.  It piqued my interest and I had to give it a try.

It was so simple, just the slaw and orange dressing, but absolutely wonderful.  I happen to love broccoli slaw, but would never have paired it with anything orange.  Oh, how I would have missed out on this bright flavor combination, had I not taken a chance.  It was so crisp and refreshing - I loved it from the very first bite!

By the time I finished, I knew I was going to have to come up with my own version, and soon!  I thought about using a mixture of plain yogurt, orange yogurt and orange juice to duplicate that dressing, but at the last minute decided to use poppy seed dressing as the base.  I still might try that variation, sometime down the road, but my family really liked the slaw this way, even my husband.  He was the one I was afraid wouldn't care for it.  He's not a huge fan of orange-flavored things but to my surprise, he loved it, proving it by having 2 helpings.

Now that we are in the midst of summer, this cool salad will make a big splash at any gathering!

Here's your Cast of Characters.

2 Bags of broccoli slaw
1/2 Cup red onion, finely diced
1 - 6 Oz. orange yogurt (whatever brand you like best)
1 Cup poppy seed dressing (your favorite bottle will work)
1/2 Cup pulp-free orange juice - do NOT use "from concentrate" juice
1 Tsp. sea salt
1/2 Tsp., each, black pepper, onion powder and garlic powder
1/8 Tsp. cayenne pepper

Place slaw and onion in a large mixing bowl.  In a smaller bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients until well combined.

Pour over slaw mixture and stir well.

Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour, before serving.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Oatmeal Fudge Bars

For those of you who have followed me for any length of time, you know that I really don't enjoy baking.  It has too many rules for me.  I can't just wing it and come up with a recipe on the fly.  You actually need to follow a recipe and I find that too confining.

That being said, there are times that some baking needs to be done.  My husband is getting ready for a fishing trip to Canada, and I'm trying to set him up with some treats to take along.  A couple of weeks ago, I came across this recipe and decided to try it out.  It was definitely a hit among my family, but especially with Chris. 

Here's the thing, I wasn't planning on posting this recipe at first, so I didn't start out taking pictures.  About halfway through, it occurred to me that I might, actually, want to use this one, and started clicking away, at that point.

Here's your Cast of Characters.

1 Cup butter, plus 2 Tsp., softened and divided
2 Cups light brown sugar
2 eggs
4 Tsps. vanilla, divided
2 Cups flour
1 Tsp. baking soda
1 Tsp. salt
3 Cups quick-cooking oatmeal
12 Oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 Can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 13 x 15 inch jelly roll pan generously with non-stick cooking spray.

Cream 1 cup butter, brown sugar, eggs and 2 tsps. vanilla.  Gradually add flour, baking soda, salt and oatmeal.  Once combined, refrigerate for half an hour.

Meanwhile, in a microwavable bowl, add chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, 2 tsps. butter, and 2 tsps. vanilla.  Microwave on medium for 1 1/2 minutes.  Stir well and microwave on high for another minute.  Mix vigorously until chips are melted and smooth.  If you need to microwave a little more, do it in 30 second increments, stirring well after each one.

Remove dough from refrigerator.  Press 2/3 of it in the pan, spreading evenly.  Pour fudge mixture over the oatmeal crust, smoothing it out, but leaving a 1 inch edge of crust.  You want the crust to come up, not the fudge leaking down.

With the remaining oatmeal batter, take small spoonfuls and flatten them into patties, placing randomly over the fudge.

My daughter said it looked like a giraffe!

Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until oatmeal batter starts to brown.

Let cool slightly before cutting.

I had one of these fresh out of the oven, and it was okay, but I wasn't that impressed.  Then, I tried one the next night.  BINGO - we have a winner!  These are really best prepared in advance.  They become utterly divine!


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Old Switcheroo

This week I am pulling a switcheroo.  My son had a baseball game tonight & has another one on Thursday.  Since that means running from work, grabbing a quick meal & rushing to the game, I don't have time to cook or get my recipe together for the blog.  Sooooooo, I will post a recipe tomorrow night & on Friday night.

I will tell you what tomorrow night's recipe is going to be, though:  Oatmeal Fudge Bars.

Have a good night, & I'll see you tomorrow!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Grilled Avocadoes

I know I've said this before, but sometimes the simplest things are the best.  This last week or so, I have realized this yet again while enjoying a beautiful green salad, a bowl of peaches and cream and, yes, grilled avocadoes.

I have been hearing a lot about grilling these little beauties, and finally decided to try it for myself.  Mind you, I love avocadoes almost any way you can think of, so I was fairly certain I would like them grilled.  Let's just say that I was not disappointed.  They took on such a lovely, smoky taste that I was not quite expecting.

Here's your Cast of Characters.

2 - 3 Ripe avocadoes
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. lime juice
Sprinkle of kosher salt
Snippet of cilantro

Cut avocadoes in half, and remove pit.  Mix olive oil and lime juice.  Brush generously on avocado halves.

Sprinkle liberally with  kosher salt.

Heat grill to 350 - 375 degrees.  Place skin side down first.  Cook about 3 minutes.  Flip over and grill flesh side for another 3 minutes. 

Place a few cilantro leaves in the well; continue grilling for another minute.

Remove from heat, drizzle with a little more lime juice and sprinkle a little extra salt and pepper, if needed.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

I might have mentioned before, maybe once or twice, that both of my grandmas were great cooks.  One of the things that my Grandma Souders completely rocked was homemade pies.  You name it, my grandma could make it.  My Aunt Linda has a restaurant, and until the day my grandma passed away, she went in every morning at 4:00 am to make homemade bread, rolls and pies.  And, every Sunday dinner had at least 2 different pies.  I'll take pies over cake any day, so it was heaven!

One of my very favorite types was Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie.  It featured homemade chocolate pudding, a generous helping of peanut butter and mile-high meringue.  It was so rich that you could only have a small piece, but utterly delicious.  Thinking about it makes my mouth water, but even more than that, it makes me miss my grandma.

There is no way that I can replicate that pie.  It would just never be the same or as good, but I have been craving chocolate peanut butter pie so I decided to do my own version.

Here's you Cast of Characters.

3 Eggs, beaten
1 - 8 Oz brick cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 Cup powdered sugar, divided
1/4 Cup cornstarch
1/3 Cup cocoa powder
3 Cups whole milk
1/3 Cup creamy peanut butter
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 Baked, deep-dish pie crusts
Whipped topping, enough to cover 2 pies about an inch thick

In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1 cup powdered sugar, cornstarch and cocoa.  Slowly whisk milk in, turning heat to medium.

Now, most recipes for pudding tell you that, from this point on, you need to stir continually until it thickens.  I say, "Balderdash!"  Okay, not really.  I've never said that in my life, but you don't need to stand there for 10 or 15 minutes stirring.  That's my point.  As long as you keep the heat at medium, you are fine to stir frequently, making sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan and scorch.

While you are waiting for the cocoa mixture to come to a boil, whip cream cheese and remaining 1/4 cup powdered sugar together with an electric mixture.

Once it's creamy, add peanut butter and mix thoroughly.

About now, the pudding should be starting to thicken a little.

Once it comes to a full boil, set timer for 2 minutes and stir constantly.

When timer goes off, turn heat to low.  Take a large spoon and slowly whisk a little into the eggs, tempering them, adding a couple of spoonfuls.

Whisk into the pudding, turn heat back to medium and cook for another 2 minutes.

When that is done, remove from heat.  Whisk in butter and vanilla.

Add thickened pudding to cream cheese and peanut butter mixture.  Beat until completely combined.

Put a piece of plastic wrap directly on pudding.  This prevents it from getting the thick skin on top.

Cool in the refrigerator for half an hour.  Remove plastic wrap and divide into pre-baked pie crusts.

Take whipped topping and spread a generous layer over pies.

Place back in the fridge and let it cool completely, and set - about 2 hours.  Unless you're my family, and you just can't wait.  We only let it cool for an hour before we had to dig in.  The reason I'm telling you this is because my finished picture isn't the prettiest.  I cheated and used a store-bought pie crust, which cracked on me.  That's what I get when I don't take the time to make the crust.  Plus, the pudding hadn't set completely.  But, don't let the picture fool you, it tasted wonderful!  A nice blend of chocolate and peanut butter, made silkier by the cream cheese.