Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Carrot Cake

I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  I don't really care for cake.  I'll have a piece every now and then, but I could really live without it.  Well, except for carrot cake.  To be more specific, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.  I adore it!  I'm fairly certain that I could eat the whole cake, if it were acceptable.  I'm not even kidding a little bit.  The whole cake - mine!

Here's another thing you may or may not know about me.  I don't like to use box mixes to make cakes.  It all boils down to my dad.  When I was growing up, that man could tell a box cake with the first bite.  He would still eat it, but he didn't like it, so I just got used to making cakes from scratch.  I never minded and now I'm just so used to doing it that way, it's habit.  That being said, I've never made a carrot cake before.  It just seemed like a lot of work, and I've mentioned before how much I love baking (and by that, you know I mean loathe baking).  I don't know if I would have made the cake, either, if I didn't have an abundance of carrots from my garden.

After searching the web, I found a good base recipe that I heavily tweaked.  The result was a very flavorful and moist carrot cake that I just can't get enough of.

Here's your Cast of Characters.

1 1/2 Cups sugar
1/2 Cup honey
3/4 Cup vegetable oil
3 Large eggs
1 1/2 Tsps. baking soda
1 Tbsp. good quality cinnamon (like Saigon Cinnamon)
1/2 Tsp. nutmeg
1 Tsp. dried orange peel
1/4 Tsp., each, ginger and allspice
1 Tsp. salt (not pictured)
2 Tsps. vanilla extract
3 Cups freshly grated carrots
1 Cup pineapple juice, unsweetened
2 1/2 cups flour
1 Cup pecan pieces, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9 x 13 pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Here's where it gets really tricky.  Dump all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl.

Mix well, until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40 - 50 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.  It's fine for a few crumbs to stick to the toothpick - it will be moist as it cools.

Top with your favorite cream cheese frosting, whether it is homemade or store-bought.

Whew!  That was tough, wasn't it?  I'm confident you can handle all the steps, though!


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Creamy Tomato Sauce with Italian Sausage, Shallots and Garlic

I'm sorry, folks, I have been MIA for a week.  I had to have oral surgery, and it knocked me for a loop.  A week later, and I am still not up to par.  Here's my advice, if you can avoid having this done, please do.  I don't want you to be miserable like this.  I like you too much.

Besides the pain from the surgery, I have been limited to soft, lukewarm to cold foods, also.  That's torture on a whole new level for me.  But finally tonight, I cooked my first meal..  It had to be fairly soft because my mouth is still sore, but I wanted real food.  REAL FOOD, I TELL YOU!  I wanted pasta.  Since it's summer, I wanted a sauce made from some fresh veggies, too.  This is my offering to you:  Creamy Tomato Sauce with Italian Sausage, Shallots and Garlic.  Maybe it's because I was dying for real food, but this was so refreshingly delicious!  My family scarfed it up, leaving no leftovers whatsoever.

Here's your Cast of Characters.

1 Package of Mild Italian Sausage Links (5-6 in a package)
4 Large cloves of garlic
4 Large shallots
8 Roma tomatoes, deseeded
3 Long sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 1/4 Cups chicken broth
3/4 Cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tsp. Lawry's
1/2 Tsp., each, black pepper, Mrs. Dash Onion & Herb blend, McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb blend and McCormick Perfect Pinch Tuscan blend

Partially freeze Italian sausage - it makes them easier to cut.  Remove casings, if desired.  Cut sausage in half, lengthwise, then into 1 inch pieces.  In a large skillet, drizzle a little olive oil, heat to medium and add sausage.

Brown the sausage, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, pulse garlic and shallots a few times until rough chopped.

Add tomatoes and rosemary.

Pulse a few more times until coarsely chopped.  Be careful, as you don't want it to become a puree.

Once sausage has browned, add tomato mixture.

Stir well to combine.  Cover, turn to medium-high heat and cook for 3 minutes.

Add broth, cream and seasonings.  Stir well, again.

Cover and cook for 10 minutes.  It should be reduced a little and starting to thicken.

Uncover, turn to medium heat and continue cooking another 4 - 5 minutes until thickened slightly.

Serve over linguine or fettuccine.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Philly Chicken Sandwiches

Over the weekend we got a little hint that fall is not far off.  High temps were only in the mid-seventies, with lows dropping to somewhere in the forties.  My husband and I agree that this is perfect weather.  In fact, we would be happy if it stayed this way year round, however, we live in North Dakota, so that is NEVER going to happen.  Which means that we have to make the most of it while we can.  One way to enjoy the cool down is with a bonfire complete with hotdogs, roasted marshmallows and s'mores.

Okay, I have to be honest, I grilled hamburgers, too, because I'm not fond of hotdogs, and that's how I came to tonight's recipe.  We had leftover hotdog buns and I had to find a use for them.  My kids suggested bread dumplings but I wasn't up for the mess it takes to make those.  Initially, I had thought of Philly Cheesesteaks but didn't have the time to cook a beef roast mid-week.  Yes, I know I could use a crockpot but I just don't plan that far in advance.  So, last minute, I decided to vary a little and go with something that would cook quickly and shred easily:  chicken!

Here's your Cast of Characters.

Hot dog or hoagie buns
2 - 3 Large, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 Small package dry Italian dressing mix, divided
Sprinkling of black pepper
1 1/2 Cups Tuscany chicken broth (or regular chicken broth seasoned with thyme, rosemary and basil)
1 Large or 3 small onions
3/4 Cup deli sliced mild banana pepper rings and 1/4 cup marinade, divided
1 Yellow sweet bell pepper, cut into strips
Drizzle of olive oil (not pictured)
1/2 Cup real mayo (not Miracle Whip or salad dressing)
Sliced provolone cheese

Place chicken breasts in a large, non-stick skillet and sprinkle with half of the Italian dressing and a dash of pepper.

Add chicken broth, 1 small onion chopped (or 1/3 large onion), 1/4 cup banana pepper rings and 1/4 cup marinade from peppers.

Cover, turn to medium heat and cook for 20 minutes, turning halfway through.  Meanwhile, in a separate non-stick skillet, cut remaining onions into thin wedges and sauté  on medium heat with yellow and banana peppers drizzled with about a tablespoon of olive oil.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and open buns onto it.  With your fingers, flatten the centers of the top and bottom buns to make a slight well for the toppings.

Next, in a small bowl combine mayo and remaining Italian dressing mix.

Stir well and set aside.

Once, onions and peppers have softened up and started to brown, turn to low heat.

When chicken is done, place buns in the oven to toast while you shred the chicken breasts.  Place chicken back in the skillet along with the broth to keep warm.

Pull buns from the oven and spread with seasoned mayo.

Place a heaping helping of chicken on the mayo side.

Top the other  side with peppers and onions, then a slice of provolone.

Place back in the oven, now turned to a low broil, until cheese starts to melt, about 2 - 3 minutes.

Fold those fat sandwiches over and serve immediately.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Italian Herb Roasted Potato Rounds

One of the many things I love about summer is the wonderful produce sales that happen about every other week at the grocery store across from my work.  I get all excited when I see the trucks blocking a portion of the parking lot and the canopies being set up because I know when that's all done, I can wander amongst all those beautiful fruits and veggies.  The deep hues of the strawberries and raspberries make me drool.  The sunniness of the peaches and nectarines brings a smile to my face.  And, the vibrant greens of the lettuces, spinach and herbs has my head spinning with ideas for dinner.

That's where tonight's recipe came from, the fabulous produce sale.  Out of all of those things, a luscious green bundle of Italian parsley called out to me.  It begged to be used.  How could I turn it down?  I couldn't.  It was so pretty, I could see it atop roasted potatoes, lending its subtle flavor so perfectly.

Here's your Cast of Characters.

4 Large baking potatoes, scrubbed clean
1/4 Cup olive oil
1 Cup Italian parsley, snipped & divided
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, snipped
1 Tsp. fresh thyme, crushed
Freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. sea salt flakes or kosher salt
1/2 Cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 Cup plain Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp. McCormick Perfect Pinch Tuscan Seasoning

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil & spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Cut potatoes into 1 inch rounds.

Place potatoes, oil, 1/2 cup parsley, rosemary and thyme in a large bowl and toss well.

Place in a single layer on prepared pan, making sure to evenly distribute the herbs.  Grind some pepper over the potatoes, then sprinkle the salt.

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix the Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup parsley and the Tuscan seasoning.  Refrigerate until potatoes are done.

When timer goes off, sprinkle cheese over the potatoes.

Continue roasting for another 10 - 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender when forked.  Serve immediately.  Top with a dollop of yogurt mixture, remaining 1/4 cup parsley and a pinch of Parmesan cheese.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

3 Ingredient Oriental Glaze for Chicken

Just got back from our short trip to Missouri for my nephew's wedding.  It was outdoors, simple and completely beautiful.  I am so happy that we were able to be there to celebrate in their special day.  Memories were made that will last a lifetime.

After a short (cough, cough) 12 hour drive, we pulled into our driveway last night around 9:30.  We unpacked the pickup, but left everything strewn around my house, only taking out the essential toiletries right away.  Then, it seemed like only minutes later, I was getting up and going to work.  It was a very, very long day.

Why am I telling you all of this?  One, because I wanted to brag about the wedding.  It really was such a wonderful ceremony and reception.  And, two, because I didn't feel like cooking anything tonight.  Well, nothing too exciting - tacos.  So, I had to go to one of my stand-by recipes.  I've been holding this one for a couple of weeks, waiting for the right time, and this is it. 

3 Ingredients, super simple and comes together in less than 1 minute!

Here's your Cast of Characters.

3/4 Cup Orange Marmalade
1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
1 - 2 Tbsp. Sriracha (depending on how spicy you want it)
In a small, microwavable bowl, whisk all ingredients together.  Microwave on high for 45 seconds.  Stir well.

Use on grilled, roasted or broiled chicken.  Spoon over chicken pieces when they are almost done.  Continue cooking until chicken is thoroughly done and glaze has thickened up.