Monday, October 28, 2013

Apple-Cheddar Scones

I know it's a super popular regional thing, but for some reason I just can't really get behind apple pie with cheddar cheese.  Don't get me wrong - I love apples and cheddar together - on sandwiches, as a snack, or in a salad.  But I have some sort of a mental block against trying the combo in a pie.  What I don't have a mental block against, however, is the apple-cheddar combo in a scone.  The base of the scone is soft, tender, and buttery, with a subtle cheddar flavor.  What makes these scones truly special, however, are the roasted apples.  You peel and roughly chop apples, then roast them to concentrate to flavor and cook off excess moisture.  They are added to the dough, and you are rewarded with little bursts of sweetness to balance out the more savory scone.

I've taken to only baking up a few scones anytime I make a batch, and freezing the rest to enjoy on a weekday morning.  It's such a special treat to have a freshly baked scone on a random morning!

So side note: as I mentioned, I only baked up a few of these right off the bat, then smuggled them into the dining room to photograph before releasing them to my little ones.... I look through the door as I'm snapping some shots, and this is what I see.  :)  Never a dull moment in our house!  For the record:  the scones were devoured in a matter of minutes by my crew.

Apple pie with cheddar:  yay or nay?

Apple-Cheddar Scones
adapted from The Perfect Finish via Smitten Kitchen and Smells Like Home
makes 6 large scones

  • 1 lb firm, tart apples, like Granny Smith (2-4 apples, depending on size)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 Tbs baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt plus additional for egg wash
  • 6 Tbs unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes 
  • 2 1/2 oz sharp white cheddar, shredded (1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 Tbs coarse sugar, for sprinkling

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

    Peel, core, and chop each apple into about 16-24 pieces (roughly chopped, really). Toss them onto the baking sheet, spreading them out into one layer.  Bake for 20 minutes until they are slightly browned and look like they are starting to dry out.  Leave the oven on.  

    Let apples cool completely – either at room temperature for about an hour, or if you are in a hurry, pop them in the freezer, baking sheet and all.  

    While the apples roast and cool, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

    After the apples cool, add them along with the butter, cheese, heavy cream, and one egg to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Sprinkle the flour mixture over the ingredients in the bowl.  With the mixer on low speed, mix the ingredients until they just come together to form a dough – do not overmix.  The butter will still be in large-ish chunks and the dough will be sticky.  If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can do this step by hand using your fingers or a pastry cutter to work the butter into the flour.  This could also be done in a food processor, fitted with the dough-blade.

    Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and sprinkle the top of the dough with more flour.  Lightly flour your hands, then work the dough together into a disk then flatten disk to a 6-7 inch circle, about 1 1/4 inches high.  With a floured knife or bench scraper, cut the dough into 6 triangles.  

    Line the now cooled baking sheet with a new piece of parchment paper or grease it with butter.  Transfer the dough triangles to the baking sheet, leaving at least 2 inches between each piece.

    Beat the remaining egg and a pinch of salt together in a small bowl.  Brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg then sprinkle some sugar on the top of each piece.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. 

     Allow the scones to cool at least 10 minutes before serving.  The scones are best served warm and within 1 day of making them.  To freeze, arrange the scones in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, move to the freezer until they are frozen solid.  Transfer the scones to a freezer bag, and when you're ready to eat them,  just add a few minutes to the baking time.

    Wednesday, October 23, 2013

    Chicken Chili Verde

    When I feel the first chill in the air each fall, my first thoughts turn to chili.  There is just nothing like a big bowl of chili, loaded with toppings, enjoyed with a big hunk of cornbread.  I make a lot of chili throughout the fall and winter months, ranging from classic beef and bean chili, to white bean chicken chili, vegetarian black bean chili, quinoa chicken chili, taco chili, even tequila-lime turkey chili.  It's hard to pick a favorite, since they're all so different, and they all satisfy different cravings and moods.

    This chili satisfies the "all my kids are sick, we're having some decidedly not-fun house issues, and it's cold outside" mood.  And it is amazing.  The base of the chili is made up of three different kinds of chile peppers - jalapeños, poblanos, and anaheims.  It also uses hominy, rather than beans, to add bulk to the chili, and it's a great move.  I love hominy, so anytime I see it in a recipe, I want to make it immediately.

    The chili is slightly spicy, with a slightly tangy undertone from the milder peppers.  It's finished with cilantro, scallions, and lime juice, and the bright freshness is a great complement to the spice.  I served this at Henry and Tucker's baptism luncheon over the weekend, and it was a hit with our families as well.

    If you're like me, and love to constantly try new recipes for chili, give this one a try.  It's an instant classic.

    Chicken Chili Verde
    adapted from Elly Says Opa and ATK's Healthy Family Cookbook
    serves 6 to 8 generously
    • 3 lbs bone-in, skin on chicken pieces (breasts, thighs, or a mixture of both)
    • 1 Tbs canola oil
    • 2 medium jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
    • 3 medium anaheim or cubanelle peppers, stemmed, seeded, and coarsely chopped
    • 3 medium poblano peppers, stemmed, seeded, and coarsely chopped
    • 2 medium onions, cut into large pieces
    • 6 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 Tbs cumin
    • 3/4 tsp ground coriander
    • 2 (14.5 oz) cans hominy, drained and rinsed, divided
    • 3-4 cups chicken broth, divided
    • juice of 2 limes
    • 1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
    • 4 green onions, thinly sliced

    Generously season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat a large Dutch oven with the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, skin-side down, and cook about 5 minutes. Fli[ the chicken and brown on the other side, 3-4 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot.
    Meanwhile, add 2 of the  jalapeño peppers to the bowl of a food processor, along with the anaheims, poblanos, and onions (do this in multiple batches if you don’t have a very large work bowl).  Process until you reach the consistency of chunky salsa, about 12-15 pulses, scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through.
    Add the puree to the Dutch oven over medium heat, along with the garlic, cumin, coriander, and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, covered, for about 10 minutes or until vegetables soften, stirring occasionally.
    Remove the pot from heat and combine 1 cup of the vegetable mixture, 1 cup of the hominy, and 1 cup of the chicken broth into the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth, about 20 seconds.  Return the mixture to the pot, and add the remaining 3 cups of broth. Nestle the browned chicken into the liquid, and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium-low and simmer, covered, until chicken registers 160º, stirring occasionally. This should take about 20 minutes.
    Remove the chicken with tongs and transfer to a plate. Stir the remaining hominy into the pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the skin from the chicken and dice or shred the meat.
    Stir the chicken, lime juice, cilantro, and green onions into the chili and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve.

    Monday, October 21, 2013

    Brats with Beer & Mustard Sauce over Egg Noodles


    The majority of the time, I try and cook meals that are at least somewhat nutritionally sound.  Or at least have some small amount of nutritional value.  So let me be clear: this meal has basically zero nutritional value, and is not healthy.  At all.  But oh man.  It is good.  And how could it not be?  It's full of some of my favorite things:  sausage, beer, mustard, caramelized onions, and pasta.  I actually did use wheat egg noodles, out of nutrition-guilt, and I roasted a pan of brussels sprouts, apples, and carrots to serve on the side.  So I don't feel tooooo guilty.  And you shouldn't either.  Especially when you taste this outstanding dinner.  I definitely believe in splurges, and this is one you should definitely make.

    When we used to tailgate every weekend, beer brats were always a popular dish.  This pasta is a play on that.  The brats are first browned in a skillet.  You then caramelize onions, make a super simple sauce of beer and mustard, then finish cooking the brats in the sauce, infusing them with the beer and tangy mustard.  Served over egg noodles, this is major comfort food.  And even better:  it's one of the easiest and fastest meals ever.  Super comfort food.  Ready in under 30 minutes.  Beer.  Done and done.

    Brats with Beer and Mustard Sauce over Egg Noodles
    America's Test Kitchen's Pasta Revolution
    serves 4 to 6

    • 2 Tbs canola oil
    • 1 lb bratwurst
    • 2 medium onions, halved and sliced thin
    • salt and pepper
    • 1 (12-oz) bottle of a lager or other mild beer
    • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard
    • 12 oz egg noodles
    Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium hat.  Add the sausage and cook until well-browned, about 5 minutes total, turning every minute or so.  Transfer to a plate and set aside.

    Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, the onions, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the now-empty skillet.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened and lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes.  

    Whisk the beer and mustard into the skillet with the onions until smooth.

    Nestle the sausages into the sauce, along with any accumulated juices from the plate.  Bring to a simmer and cook until the sausages are cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes.

    Transfer the sausages to a cutting board, and once they are cool enough to handle, slice them on the bias about 1/2-inch thick.  Return the sausage to the skillet and season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

    Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the egg noodles until al dente, stirring often, about 10 minutes.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, drain the noodles, and return them to the pot.  

    Add the sausage + onions and beer sauce to the pot with the noodles, and toss well to combine.  Add the reserved pasta water, a few tablespoons at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.  Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.  Serve.

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

    Salted Caramel Apple Crumble Bars


    When you think of fall desserts, apple pie has got to be the first thing that comes to mind.  And for good reason - it's timeless, classic, and between the soft, spiced apples and the flaky crust, it's hard to beat.  There are a million and one different recipes and versions of apple pie out there, but between you and me, this Southern Comfort Caramel Apple Pie from The Pastry Queen is the best one.

    Anyway, while apple pie is the quintessential fall dessert, there is something about pie bars that just make me so happy.  They are cute, low-maintenance, much easier to make than a whole pie, and the smaller portions are nice when you're watching your calories -- although to be honest, that flies out the window if you eat four in one sitting..... um, no comment there.

    I've had these caramel apple pie bars saved for over a year now, and I figured that between having a big batch of homemade apple cider caramels, and a gajillian apples on hand... it was just meant to be.

    These bars are not only super easy, but they are now Joey's favorite dessert.  They start with a quick crust of flour, oats, and butter, and it's spiked with just enough cinnamon and brown sugar for a subtle spiced undertone.  The filling is a combo of melted down caramels and buttery, spiced apples.  More of the crust mixture is sprinkled over the top along with just a little bit of sea salt, and the result is truly great.

    I sent most of the batch to a friend who just had a baby, and Joey and I have managed to put away the rest.  I would be sad that they're gone, but I'm making another batch this weekend for the twins' baptism luncheon.

    Dare I say caramel apple pie bars > apple pie?  Is that blasphemous?

    Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars
    barely adapted from Annie's Eats
    makes 16 bars

    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
    • 1/3 cup sugar
    • 1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar
    • 3/4 tsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 12 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
    • 1 large egg yolk
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • fleur de sel, for sprinkling


    • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
    • 4 large (or 5 medium) apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
    • 3 Tbs sugar
    • 1 tsp cinnamon
    • dash of ground nutmeg
    • pinch of salt
    • 9 oz caramels, unwrapped
    • 2 Tbs heavy cream

    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line an 8x8 inch square baking dish with foil, leaving an overhand on 2 sides.

    To prepare the dough, add the flour, oat, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon together in a large bowl, and whisk to combine.  Scatter the butter over the top using a pastry blender (or 2 forks), and cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Stir in the egg yolk and vanilla and mix or knead until a cohesive dough forms.

    Press about two-thrids of the dough into an even layer in the prepared baking pan.  Bake 12-14 minutes, or until it's light golden-brown.

    Meanwhile, prepare the filling.  Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the apples, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and cook the apples, stirring often, until they are softened and caramelized, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

    For the caramel layer, melt the caramels and heavy cream in a medium saucepan, over medium heat, stirring often, until smooth.  

    To assemble the bars, spread the caramel over the baked crust.  Arrange the apples over the caramel in a single layer.  Finally, crumble the remaining dough mixture over the apples.  Sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel.

    Return the pan to the oven and bake until the caramel is bubbly and the top is golden-brown, 22-25 minutes.  Cool completely before slicing and serving, or scoop it with a large spoon to serve it cobbler-style.

    Wednesday, October 16, 2013

    Giveaway: America's Test Kitchen's Slow Cooker Revolution Two Book Set (Closed)

    As I'm sure you could guess, the last year has been.... well... there are a lot of words for what's it's been, but today I'll just go with 'busy.'  Some days of course are busier than others, and on those days, I like to turn to my trusty crock pot.  A penny's worth of work for a dollar's worth of dinner is my kind of cooking on busy days.

    The problem I used to run into, however, is that so many crockpot recipes use processed ingredients and convenience items.  I personally just try to avoid using those things, so I pretty much had 3-4 recipes that I made regularly, and didn't use my crock pot much outside of that.

    That is, until two years ago, when I bought Slow Cooker Revolution.  This cookbook really is a 'revolution,' and I haven't made a single recipe out of there that I wouldn't recommend.  It has a great variety of dinners - everything from soups, stews, and chili, to roasts, breakfasts, and even some pasta dishes.  I have made several things out of the cookbook, including the Loaded Potato Soup, Farmhouse Chicken and Corn Chowder, Tex-Mex Chicken Stew, Chicken Stew with Sausage and White Beans, Tequila-Lime Turkey Chili, Smoky Sausage Chili, Bolognese Sauce, Chicken and Mushroom Sauce, Tex-Mex Stuffed Peppers, Sloppy Joe's, and Irish Oatmeal with Bananas.  And I still have a list of about 30 more recipes bookmarked to try soon.

    Their latest edition is touted as being "The Easy Prep" Edition.  One of the goals of this cookbook is that it takes less than 15 minutes from the time you begin assembling ingredients to the time you press 'start' and walk away.  It has some great recipes, and I've already made the Spanish Chicken and Saffron Stew and the Three-Bean and Beef Chili, and both are awesome.  It also includes some unconventional crockpot recipes, such as ideas for appetizers, veggies, and even some desserts.  I'm definitely looking forward to exploring it further in the coming weeks.

    So who wants to win a copy of both of these cookbooks?  I'm giving away the Two-Book Set!  All you have to do is leave a comment telling me your favorite crockpot dinner.

    Rules, disclaimers, etc:
    • One entry per person.
    • US residents only - sorry!
    • You must leave a valid email address to be eligible.  
    • Giveaway closes Sunday, October 20th at 11:59 pm.  Winner will be chosen by a random number generator.
    • This giveaway is sponsored by me!  I really love these cookbooks, and just wanted to share the love.

    Tuesday, October 15, 2013

    (Crockpot) Spanish Chicken & Saffron Stew


    While I will never ever be a fan of winter or cold weather, I am a fan of soup, stew, and chili.  And I'm an even bigger fan of having dinner ready at 5pm on the dot and barely having lifted a finger.  Therefore, crockpot recipes are like my BFF.  And this crockpot recipe is REALLY my BFF, because it is one of the most low-maintenance and easy recipes I think I've ever made.

     It is in the crockpot in less than 10 minutes, and then all you have to do before serving is shred the chicken and stir in a few garnishes.  So so easy.  And it was a big hit with my family.  The stew is very simple and rustic, but it packs a big flavor punch. Chicken thighs are used instead of breasts, so they don't get dried out, and they have more flavor.  The stew is seasoned with onions, garlic, paprika, and saffron, so you're definitely not lacking for flavor here.  Chicken broth and tomatoes round out the stew, and it's garnished with chopped almonds and parsley.  The almonds give a nice textural contrast, and the parsley provides some freshness and brightness to the finish.  I really loved the addition of the almonds to the stew, and the saffron really shined through.  A huge hit all-around.  Just be forewarned, this makes a ton of stew, but I froze about half to pull out for a lazy dinner.

    I'm a big fan of America's Test Kitchen's Slow Cooker Revolution, but one of the complaints I often hear is that the recipes are too involved to be legit crock pot recipes.  I don't think there is such a thing as an illegitimate crock pot recipe, but I do see the argument there - if you spend 30 minutes prepping a crock pot recipe, what's the point of even using a crock pot, right?  In ATK's defense, the recipes are always worth the extra few minutes, especially because they don't contain weird or processed ingredients.   But their new cookbook, Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2:  The Easy Prep Edition, is the solution to the long-prep time problem.  This cookbook's sole focus is crockpot recipes that are low-maintenance and well... easy to prep.   The only issue I have with the book, which actually doesn't really affect me too much since I'm home in the afternoons, is that a good number of the recipes only cook for 4-6 hours.  This doesn't really help those who work outside the home, unless your crockpot has a timer.  But overall, I'm pretty impressed with the book.  Definitely check it out if you love crock potting too!

    Pssst:  Come back tomorrow - there could maybe possibly be something in it for you ;)

    Spanish Chicken & Saffron Stew
    barely adapted from ATK's Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2
    serves 6 to 8

    • 2 cups chopped onions
    • 2 Tbs minced fresh garlic
    • 1 Tbs olive oil
    • 1 Tbs paprika (I used half smoked and half sweet, and it was a great combo)
    • 1/4 tsp crumbled saffron
    • 3-4 cups chicken broth
    • 1 (14.5 oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (with liquid)
    • 3 Tbs instant tapioca
    • 4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
    • salt and pepper
    • 1/4 cup chopped almonds, toasted
    • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

    Combine the onions, garlic, oil, paprika, saffron, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper in a microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave about 5 minutes, or until the onions are softened, stirring halfway through.  Transfer to the slow cooker.

    Stir in 3 cups of the broth, tomatoes, and tapioca.

    Generously sprinkle the chicken thighs with salt and pepper, and nestle them into the slow cooker as well.  Cover and cook on low until the chicken is tender, about 4 to 5 hours.

    Transfer the chicken to a large bowl, and turn off the slow cooker.  Using tongs, gently break up the chicken into bite-sized pieces.  The chicken was so tender that this is all I had to do to shred it.

    Use a large spoon to skim any accumulated fat off the surface, and stir the shredded chicken, almonds, and parsley into the stew as well.  Add additional broth to adjust the consistency if it's too thick.  Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.  Serve.

    Sunday, October 13, 2013

    Apple Cider Caramels


    Raise your hand if you are or ever have been intimidated to make caramel.  It seems like kind of a scary thing to make, doesn't it?  Boiling sugar and butter until juuuuuust before it burns... it can be scary, for sure.  But if you follow a few essential guidelines, you'll be totally fine.  First and foremost, always alway always use a candy thermometer!  Also, don't walk away for even a second.  It can literally go from perfectly golden, delicious caramel to burnt and scorched sugar in the blink of an eye.  But if you abide by these two rules, you will be rewarded.

    And if you make caramels that start with apple cider, you will be very handsomely rewarded.  I've had my eye on these caramels since the moment I laid eyes on them in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.  Deb even claims that this is her favorite recipe in the whole book!  In her words, these caramels are "everything I love about New York City in October [...] in one tiny square."  I've been to New York City in the fall, and I have to admit, there is something magical and indescribable about it.  And just as she says, these caramels somehow manage to embody that.

    You start by boiling down the best apple cider you can get your hands on - preferably from an apple orchard or farm.  Once it's reduced to just a fraction of it's original volume, it will be syrupy, rich, and your house will smell absolutely amazing.  Next, you add butter, sugar, and cream, and boil it into a rich, amber caramel sauce.  Mix in cinnamon and sea salt, let the whole thing cool and set, and you will be treated to some pretty awesome caramels.

    They are sweet - but not to sweet.  Salty - but not to salty.  And there's just a whisper of apple-spiced flavor lingering in the background.  These caramels are really something special.

    These make a pretty amazing snack on their own, but if you are interested in a killer dessert and can keep yourself from eating them all in one sitting, then I have a pretty great recipe on deck.  I'll be sharing it later this week, so check back soon!

    Apple Cider Caramels
    barely adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
    makes about 64 caramels

    • 4 cups apple cider
    • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1 1/2 - 2 tsp flaky sea salt (fleur de sel)*
    • 8 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into chunks
    • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
    • 1/2 cup (11 grams) lightly packed light brown sugar
    • 1/3 cup heavy cream
    • neutral oil, for oiling the knife
    Boil the cider in a 3-4 quart saucepan over medim-high heat, until it's reduced to a dark, thick, syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume.  This should take about 30-40 minutes.  Stir or swirl occasionally to prevent scorching.

    Meanwhile, mix together the cinnamon and salt in a small bowl, and set aside; assemble the remaining ingredients as well, since once the caramel starts cooking, you won't have much time.  Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking dish with 2 long sheets of criss-crossed parchment.  Set aside.

    Once the apple cider is reduced, remove from heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream.  Return the pot to medium-high heat, and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot.

    Bring to a boil and cook until the thermometer reads 252 degrees Fahrenheit, and immediately remove from heat. This should only take about 5 minutes, so keep a close eye on it.

    Remove the candy thermometer and stir in the cinnamon-salt mixture.  Pour the caramel into the prepared pan, and set aside to cool completely.  This will take about 2 hours at room temperature, and less time in the fridge.  

    Once the caramel is firm, use the parchment paper to transfer it to cutting board.  Lightly oil a sharp knife, and cut the caramel into 1x1 inch squares, oiling the knife after each cut.  

    Wrap the caramels in 4-inch square pieces of wax paper, and store at room temperature.  

    *The original recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of salt, but I found them to be have a slightly salty aftertaste. However, Joey thought they were perfect as-is, so I gave a range.  If you use a finer-grain salt (such as table or sea salt), then definitely use less than 2 teaspoons.   

    Thursday, October 10, 2013

    Quick & Easy Weeknight Menus: Fall Edition

    I recently posted a round-up of easy weeknight meals, and it was so well-received that I thought I'd make it a semi-regular fixture around here.  Last time, I gave you ten menus for busy weeknights.  I shared it in early August, so I was definitely still in summer-food mode.  I'm slowly beginning to transition to fall comfort foods, so this one is geared more towards chilly nights, and features lots of warm fall flavors.  I hope this is helpful for those of you who are struggling to plan meals for your family... I know it has provided some inspiration for my menu plan for next week already!

    This brussels sprouts, bacon, and goat cheese pizza is the type of dish that converts brussels sprouts haters into lovers.  Just for future reference, if you want to convert someone to a new ingredient, adding bacon and/or goat cheese is always a good tactic.  I love the fall harvest pear salad, and make it at least once a week from September-March.  When I serve it with something that's already cheese-heavy, like pizza or a baked pasta dish, I just leave the cheese out of the salad.  It's still wonderful without it.  If you're feeling lazy or rushed, then just slice up some apples and/or pears to serve with the pizza.  Pizza + fresh fruit is one of our most common quick and easy weeknight dinners around here.

    Cheese & Spinach Quesadillas

    This spin on tortilla soup is super easy, and it's a new way to prepare shrimp.  I like to finely chop spinach (or any other green) and mix it with the cheese before making quesadillas.  They are great on their own on the side, but they're even better dipped into the soup!  Prep the quesadillas while the soup simmers, then grill them as the shrimp cooks in the broth.  

    Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Apple Salsa
    Grain of your choice (rice, couscous, quinoa, Trader Joe's Harvest Grains, etc)
    Roasted veggie of your choice (green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc)

    This was one of our biggest slam-dunk dinners in a while.  It combines sweet, spicy, smoky, and savory flavors, is healthy, and super easy.  As the pork is searing on the stovetop and roasting in the oven, chop the ingredients for the salsa.  Toss some veggies into the pan with the pork as it roasts, and you have an instant side.  And cook up some grains on the stovetop at the same time, and dinner is done.  Easy peasy, lemon squeezie (as Caroline says).  And bonus:  the leftovers make killer sandwiches when cheddar cheese is added into the mix.

    Grits and Greens Casserole
    Cinnamon Baked Apples

    This is the epitome of southern comfort food.  Bacon, cheese, greens, and grits.  You can even prep and assemble the casserole the morning of or night before to streamline even more in the evening.  For the cinnamon-baked apples, toss peeled apple slices with cinnamon, a smidgen of melted butter, and a pinch of nutmeg.  Spread them out in a baking dish, and cook alongside the casserole.  Just give them  stir every 5-6 minutes, and cook until they're tender and softened.  It's a super easy and healthy  side dish that all my kids love!

    Salsa Verde Chicken & Dumplings
    Salad with Bell Peppers, Carrots, and Dried Cranberries

    This is one of my all-time favorite meals.  Combining Mexican food with southern comfort food is a sure fire winner.  I keep it simple and just serve a tossed salad on the side:  leafy greens, strips of bell peppers, shredded carrots, and dried cranberries, tossed in a simple honey-lime vinaigrette. 

    Herbed Turkey Meatballs with Cranberry Dipping Sauce
    Mashed Potatoes
    Roasted Green Beans

    It doesn't get any better than Thanksgiving dinner on a weeknight.  These meatballs are super easy and low-maintenace, healthy, and majorly kid-friendly.  To make this as efficiently as possible, I peel and chop the potatoes, and put them on the boil.  Then I mix and form the meatballs, and bake.  As the meatballs bake, drain, mash, and season the potatoes, and toss some green beans in the oven to bake alongside the meatballs.  I love mustard-maple green beans.  I just toss green beans in a 2:1 mixture of mustard and maple syrup, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast 10-15 minutes, tossing halfway through, until they are crisp-tender and beginning to brown.  You could streamline the process even more by mixing and forming the meatballs the morning of or the night before.  No matter how you choose to do it, this meal should be on the table in well under an hour.

    Spinach Salad
    Sliced Apples

    If you will excuse the terrible picture, these quesadillas are something special.  Wild mushrooms, goat cheese, cranberry salsa.  Yes, yes, and yes.  I keep things really simple with a spinach salad (usually just plain spinach leaves dressed in a dijon vinaigrette) and sliced apples.  Psst, the apples are pretty great dipped in the cranberry salsa as well.

    This vegetarian green chili is certainly nothing to look at, but it's one of my favorite chilis I've made.  It is LOADED with veggies, and is so so easy.  I love serving this with jalapeño-cheddar cornbread, which can be made into a weeknight-friendly side by making corn muffins instead of a big pan of cornbread.  Or just mix jalapeños and cheddar into your favorite cornbread recipe.  

    Salad with dried cranberries, avocado, and toasted pecans

    This is a shamefully easy recipe, and it hits all the major flavors:  sweet, spicy, smoky, salty... it's just a  winner all-around.  As the chicken bakes, throw together a simple salad.  I love the combination of dried cranberries, chopped avocado, and toasted pecans.  Toss with with a simple honey-lime vinaigrette, and call it a day.

    Roasted Broccoli

    It is almost embarrassing how easy this pasta is.  Very minimal prep, and you're rewarded with a creamy, comforting, alfredo-esque pasta dinner.  Roast some broccoli in the oven as the pass cooks.  I like to season with with salt, garlic, pepper, and lemon zest.  

    Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    Baked Apple Sorbet


    My BFF Emilie gives the best presents ever.  For birthdays, Christmas, baby showers, and everything in between, she always manages to give me and the kids the best gifts.  Joey even calls her the gift whisperer.  Take last Christmas, for example.  Among some other fun and awesome things, she gave me a few super cute books:  How to Look Hot in a Minivan (timely, since we'd just purchased one) and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  Which I'd had my eye on for months and months.

    I'm sadly only now getting around to reading them, and no matter how much I read about it,  I just don't think I can look hot in a minivan, but I can make some pretty awesome ice cream and sorbet.  This baked apple sorbet is the epitome of fall.  You might think of frozen desserts as being strictly summer desserts, but when full of  apple goodness and warm fall spices, I think they are more than appropriate for October as well.

    This sorbet starts out the way any apple dessert should:  by baking the apples in sugar and cinnamon.  The mixture is then pureed, chilled, and churned, and you are basically left with frozen apple cobbler.  This stuff is really really good.  It's smooth and creamy, with the perfect balance of sweet-tart apples and warm spices.  I served this at my book club a few weeks ago with these snickerdoodles, and it was a really great ending to our meal.  And I probably should have made a double batch and taken some to Emilie.

    Baked Apple Sorbet
    adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home.

    • 1 1/2 cups unfiltered apple cider
    • 1 1/2 lbs tart apples (like Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and quartered (about 6 medium apples)
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
    • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out
    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  

    Add all the ingredients in a 9x13 inch baking dish, tossing to combine.  Cover with foil and bake 30-45 minutes, or until the apples are soft and tender.  Remove from oven and cool to room temperature.  Remove and discard the vanilla bean.

    Puree the mixture in a food processor or blender until completely smooth, doing this in two batches if necessary.  Strain the puree through a fine-mesh sieve, then chill until the mixture is cold, a few hours or overnight.*

    Pour the puree into your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer's instructions.  Keep in the freezer at least 4 hours, or until it's firm.

    *To chill the base quicker, you can build an ice bath, and stir it frequently until it's cold.  I usually just make my ice cream/sorbet base and night and chill overnight, then churn the next day.

    Sunday, October 6, 2013

    Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Apple Salsa


    Last weekend, we made the trek to the North Georgia mountains for some apple picking.  It was a pretty ambitious outing for us, now that we're outnumbered by out kids 2:1.  But we forged ahead, and lived to tell the tale, so we're considering it to be a success!  And even better yet, we came home with TONS of apples, so double win.  Smith, Caroline, and I have each been enjoying an apple a day, and I've been an apple-cooking fool for the past week.  So far, I've made a huge batch of my very berry applesauce, baked a pan of cinnamon baked apples for the twins to gnaw on, baked an apple-cinnamon German pancake, and made this pork tenderloin.  And I still have over 50 apples left!  So definitely expect to see apples take over the blog for a while!

    It's easy to relegate apples to sweet applications, but I for one think they are pretty awesome in savory dishes as well.  I've always been a fan of fruit salsas, so this was of course an instant hit with me. The pork tenderloin is rubbed with a smoky-spicy-sweet blend of cinnamon, chili powder, and just a pinch of cayenne.  After a brief sear on the stovetop, it's finished in the oven, and then served with the apple salsa.  The warmth and spice from the pork go really well with the crisp freshness and sweet-tartness of the apple salsa.

    Pork and apples have long-been a great pairing, and this dish is just a new take on that classic combination.  It's super easy, healthy (less than 500 calories per serving!), and is a hit with the whole family.  I made this a low-maintenace meal by throwing some green beans into the pan with the pork as it roasted.  I also quickly cooked a pot of grains, and it was a really well-balanced, delicious, and healthy meal.

    What's more, it's perfectly suited for leftovers.  Let me take just a moment to tell you about the awesome sliders that I used to reinvent the leftovers.  I bought some Hawaiian sweet rolls, and layered on thinly sliced pork, a spoonful of the salsa, and a slice of extra sharp cheddar.  Then I baked them until the cheese was melted, the tops of the buns were just barely crispy, and the pork was heated through.  And oh. my. goodness, were they good.  Like eat them for dinner two nights in a row good.  I'd imagine the same combo would make killer quesadillas as well.

    So between the awesome dinner and the amazing leftovers, this is the dinner that keeps on giving.  And as we move into comfort food season, it's a great dish to have in your back pocket - fall flavors, but with a lighter and modern twist.

    Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Apple Salsa
    adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe and Multiply Delicious

      For the Pork:
    • 3 Tbs olive oil, divided
    • 4 garlic cloves, minced
    • 2 Tbs chile powder
    • 1 Tbs ground cinnamon
    • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
    • pinch of nutmeg
    • pinch of ground cloves
    • 2 tsp salt
    • 2 pork tenderloins, trimmed

    • For the Apple Salsa:
      2 cups fresh apples, cored and diced (about 2 medium apples, or 1 large)
    • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
    • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)
    • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
    • 1/2 jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, diced
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (use less if you're not a cilantro-lover!)
    • 1 Tbs honey
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  

    In small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the cinnamon, chile powder, cayenne, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper.  Pour over the pork tenderloins, and massage the spice rub into the meat, turning each piece to fully coat it.

    Heat a 12-inch oven-safe skillet (preferably cast-iron) and the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium heat.  Add the pork tenderloins, and cook 2-3 minutes per side.

    Transfer the skillet + pork to the oven, and cook until the meat registers 140 degrees at the thickest part of the pork, about 15-18 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover loosely with foil, and allow to rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

    Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the apple salsa in a medium bowl, tossing well to combine. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.

    Slice the pork and serve with the apple salsa.

    Tuesday, October 1, 2013

    Flat-Roasted Chicken with Tiny Potatoes


    I have a pretty big confession to make:  I've never made a roast chicken that I liked.  I feel like there's always something off about it.  Either the skin is too browned... or it's not crispy enough... or the breast is overcooked, while the legs are undercooked... or it's too salty... or it's too bland.  That is, until I made this flat-roasted chicken.  This chicken is perfection.

    I've never really understood it when famous chefs say that a roasted chicken would be their "last meal."  I mean, come on, that's so boring!  Pick something better!  But after eating this chicken, I can totally see it.  The skin was gloriously crispy and salty.  And the meat itself was perfectly cooked, juicy, and well, perfect.  From the first bite to the last bite, I couldn't stop gushing about this meal.

    There are a few keys to this chicken:

    1. Buy a smaller bird.  3-3 1/2 pounds is perfect.  You'll also want it to be as "clean" as possible.  Meaning, go for the pastured, organic chicken.  With something as simple as this, it's important to use the best quality ingredients.  
    2. Don't be shy with the salt and pepper.  It won't be too salty.  When I say be generous, be generous.
    3. Spatchcock this bad boy.  If you're unfamiliar, this means to cut out the backbone, which is what allows you to flat-roast it.  I'll admit, the idea made me pretty squeamish, but just watch this you-tube video, and go for it.  It took less than 5 minutes.  Spatchcocking not only allows you to cook an entire chicken in less than 45 minutes, but it's the key to that super-crispy and perfectly browned skin.  
    4. Tiny potatoes.  They are usually sold in cute little mesh bags in the grocery store.  These were multicolored, and Caroline really got a kick out of eating purple potatoes.  As the fat renders off the chicken, it melts into these potatoes, and they are sinfully rich, buttery, and totally delicious.  Don't skip these!
    5. A sprinkling of fresh thyme and a squeeze of lemon juice to finish it off.  This give you just the right amount of freshness and acid to balance the salty richness of the chicken and potatoes.
    Sometimes it's easy to be seduced by 45-ingredient recipes that seem like such fun combinations and flavors, but keeping things simple really allows ingredients to shine.   This made a perfect Sunday dinner with some roasted broccoli and carrots, a green salad, and some rolls.  This chicken took me from a roasted chicken-skeptic to a major believer.  This is definitely last meal-worthy.

    Flat Roasted Chicken with Tiny Potatoes
    serves 4
    barely adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
    • One 3-3 1/2- pound chicken
    • kosher salt
    • freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 1/2 lbs tiny potatoes
    • 2 Tbs melted butter or olive oil, for potatoes
    • juice of 1/2 lemon
    • 1 Tbs minced fresh thyme
    Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Cut the backbone out of the chicken using a pair of sharp kitchen shears, then flatten the breast by cutting through the cartilage (watch the video I linked above for a detailed tutorial!).

    Generously season the cavity with salt and pepper, then transfer the chicken to a roasting pan or 12-inch cast iron skillet (recommended), laying the chicken breast side-up.  

    Gently pat the skin dry with a paper towel, then generously season the skin with more salt and pepper.  

    Toss the potatoes with the melted butter or olive oil, salt, and pepper, then arrange them around the chicken in the skillet.

    Roast the chicken 30 to 45 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the the thigh reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  Stir the potatoes after about 20 minutes, so they cook evenly.  

    Remove the skillet from the oven, and sprinkle with the thyme and drizzle with the lemon juice.  Allow the chicken to rest at room temperature 10-15 minutes before carving and serving.