Thursday, January 31, 2013

Oven-Roasted Smoked Sausage with Cabbage, Potatoes & Peppers

I LOVE a recipe where you can just dump everything together and just cook it. Usually, though, this means you've got to eat some kind of casserole. Now, I DO love casseroles, but they aren't always the most aesthetically pleasing. 

So, when I came across this recipe, I was intrigued. I've made a few changes, like adding cabbage and garlic, along with some thyme, but this recipe is still super simple. You get your "meat and potatoes" all in one awesome, oven-roasted dish. Since, as I've mentioned before, I ALWAYS have banana peppers on hand, I didn't even need to make a trip to the grocery store. Thankfully, I had like 4 or 5 smoked sausages in the deep freezer, too!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Boiled Peanuts

Well, it's that time of year again. I spotted raw peanuts at Winn-Dixie, so that means I pretty much HAVE to make boiled peanuts! Bonus: THEY WERE ON SALE.

Two years ago, I made Cajun boiled peanuts, so, this year, for my first batch (of many), I decided to just do plain ol' salty boiled peanuts. I wrote up a pretty long intro about boiled peanuts in my last post, and, since I'm feeling extra lazy (I'm such a horrible blogger!), you can go there if you really want the history of boiled peanuts. 

As always with boiled peanuts, the key is to get raw or "green" peanuts. Raw peanuts are simply fresh (green) peanuts, which have been dried, where "green" peanuts have NOT been dried. Fresh is GREAT, but usually I can only find them raw (dried). Luckily, dried can be every bit as good as fresh (like with pretty much any bean); you'll just have to soak them beforehand. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jalapeno Popper Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Grilled cheese sandwiches are an American classic - eating one always brings me back to my childhood, and even as an adult, it's hard to beat a grilled cheese sandwich, served with a bowl of tomato soup (from the can, but ALWAYS made with milk instead of water!). 

Up until very recently, grilled cheese sandwiches were relegated to the kids menu at most restaurants. But, in the last few years, there's been a resurgence in grilled cheese popularity thanks to restaurants like Melt Bar & Grilled in Cleveland. Even Birmingham now has a grilled cheese food truck, also called Melt (no affiliation with the one in Cleveland, though). 

When it comes to grilled cheeses, though, I've always been a purist. Buttered white bread, American cheese (aka Kraft Singles), cooked in a ridiculous amount of butter and pressed so flat you could slide the sandwich under a door. 

Until now, that is. After a particularly long and good run, I was DYING for some jalapeno poppers. I didn't want to buy the frozen ones from the grocery store, and I definitely didn't want to go out to a restaurant for some, especially since I was unshowered and jelly-legged from running. So, after a quick glance at the fridge, I had an epiphany and decided to create a jalapeno popper sandwich. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Homemade Ranch Dressing Mix

A lot of recipes nowadays call for DRY Ranch dressing mix. For example, just out of MY recipes that call for Ranch dressing mix, I've got Bacon Ranch Potato SaladCilantro-Lime Ranch DressingGoldfish Snack Mix, Cheddar Bacon Ranch DipSlow-Cooker Creamy Pork Chops, Fiesta Ranch Chicken Cheese Ball, Bacon Cheddar Ranch Hashbrown Casserole, Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad, AND something I need to make for the upcoming Super Bowl, my Bacon Cheddar Ranch Cheese Ball.

The point is, I can't be the ONLY one who goes through their fare share of Ranch mix. It's one of key ingredients in my favorite pot roast recipe, too! Most stores only carry the Hidden Valley Ranch brand, and it's not exactly cheap (side note: ALDI has their own version and it IS cheap. I've used it before, and, honestly, it's GREAT). After looking at what felt like HUNDREDS of recipes online, then deciding to just wing it, I came up with my very own version, all out of spices I already had in the pantry! 

Now, not only do I not have to buy dry mixes anymore, I don't have to buy bottled dressing either - I can whip up my own homemade batch in minutes! 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Slow-Cooker Chicken Stock

So, the weekend greeted me with a leftover rotisserie chicken carcass from the Taco Bell Chicken Quesadillas, no room in either freezer, AND a complete shortage of my homemade chicken stock. It's been COLD here lately (January & February are our coldest months here in Alabama), so I've been going through LOTS of stock for soups, chowders and chilis

I *could* make another batch of my usual stock, but, unfortunately, I don't have any vegetable scraps, OR any chicken feet (and I'm kinda too lazy to make the drive to the one Asian market that carries them). On top of all that, I had a race scheduled this morning, the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Dash, so I knew I wouldn't have time to watch over a simmering stockpot. Since I did have a few veggies in the crisper, looking a bit sad, I knew I had enough to make a small batch of stock. 

This recipe gave me 2 quarts (actually, 10 cups) of rich chicken stock, and I didn't have to watch the pot AT ALL, thanks to the magic of the Crock-Pot. This was DEFINITELY a great way to use up that rotisserie chicken carcass and veggies! Bonus - it was EASY!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Taco Bell Chicken Quesadillas

I love Taco Bell. There, I've admitted it. I know it's totally unhealthy fast food, and, honestly, I DON'T CARE. I crave their food, ESPECIALLY their Mountain Dew Baja Blast (odd, considering I HATE all other forms of Mountain Dew). I used to ALWAYS get the same thing - soft taco supremes, but eventually I branched out with their bean burritos, crunchwraps, and, one of my all-time favorites, the chicken quesadilla. Which, for no apparent reason, I like to pronounce as "KWEEZA-DILLUH" in my head.

I say it's ONE of my favorites, only because Taco Bell unceremoniously discontinued my all-time absolute favorite menu item, The Cheesy Bean & Rice Burrito. 

ANYWAY, back to the chicken quesadilla. Honestly, what makes them awesome is their sauce. It's a creamy, slightly spicy sauce, with a healthy sprinkling of cumin - Taco Bell refers to it as their "jalapeno sauce". Then, it's just some of their grilled chicken and melted cheese, all pressed together in a flour tortilla. Pretty simple stuff, right? 

Definitely simple enough to make at home! The sauce is super easy to whip up, and goes great on PLENTY of items. I use a rotisserie chicken to save time, but you could easily use some leftover grilled chicken if you have it. The American cheese is the game-changer - it melts so incredibly well, sort of "fusing" everything together. Better yet, you can make these in about the same amount of time it would take to get through the drive-thru! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

New! Pinterest "Pin It" Button

Hey y'all!!

Pinterest is HUGE now - in fact, thanks to Pinterest and this post, I've gotten a TON of new readers (*waves*). So, if you're one of the lovely people who found me through Pinterest, THANK YOU! 

I've been pinning each new post to a personal Pinterest board, but was asked by a Facebook commenter to add a Pinterest "Pin It" option to each individual post - previously, the only "Pin It" option I had was on the main page, and it wouldn't let you pin individual posts. 

So, after a bit of internet sleuthing and HTML-finagling, I added the option. Now, inside each individual post (all posts, including older posts), will have a "Pin It" button at the END of each post, before the comments, above the "Stumble Upon" button. I've marked it with a red box in the screenshot below. 

Simply click on the button, and you'll be able to choose any photograph used within the post. The "description" will automatically prefill with the title of the post, but of course, you can change it to whatever you'd like. 

Happy pinning! 

- Julia

Four-Cheese Ravioli with Italian Sausage & Tomato-Basil Alfredo Sauce

This is one of those great quick recipes that uses a few shortcuts and prepared ingredients - people will swear you've spent hours in the kitchen! Originally a vegetarian recipe, I chose to add mushrooms for richness and Italian sausage for added flavor. Feel free to leave out either ingredient, though! 

It's a great dish - cheesy raviolis, in a creamy, basil & sun-dried tomato alfredo, studded with sauteed mushrooms and Italian sausage. The flavors work together SO perfectly! 

Prep work is minimal, and the sauce only takes about 5 minutes to cook - the most time-consuming part of this recipe is cooking the pasta, which still takes less than 10 minutes! Not bad, huh? 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fall Vegetable Curry (Vegetarian/Vegan)

As you probably already know, there are a LOT of vegetarian dishes in Indian cooking. I've even posted one of my favorites here before - aloo gobi. Not all Indian dishes are crazy spicy, nor do they require hard-to-find special ingredients or take hours to prepare. 

This dish, for example, takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, can be prepared all in a single pot, and is both healthy and delicious. You should be able to find ALL of the necessary ingredients at any grocery store. This dish is vegetarian, and easily made vegan simply by choosing a non-dairy yogurt such as soy or coconut milk yogurt, which are becoming more and more easy to find in "regular" grocery stores (our local Publix has both of these vegan options!). 

I prefer my curry served atop brown rice, with a nice piece of naan (naan may NOT be vegan-friendly, so keep that in mind!).  

Fall Vegetable Curry
adapted from Cooking Light

1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 cup peeled & diced sweet potato
1 cup cauliflower florets
1/4 cup thinly sliced sweet onion
2 tsp Madras curry powder (regular curry powder is fine, too) 
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 15oz can chickpeas/garbanzo beans, rinsed & drained
1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (use soy or coconut milk yogurt for vegan)

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sweet potato and saute for 3 minutes. 

Reduce the heat to medium, then add the cauliflower, onion and curry powder. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. 

Add the broth, chickpeas, diced tomatoes and salt. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender. 

Combine the cilantro and yogurt; serve atop the curry. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Easy Peach Crisp

When it comes to a comforting dessert, it's really hard to beat sweet peaches, topped with a crunchy streusel-like topping, all loosely held together with a cake-y mixture. Granted, you can always make a crisp or a betty (or even a cobbler) from scratch, but sometimes, you just need something quick and easy to prepare. 

So, if you can open a few packages and layer things together, you can make this! 

Technically, this is what's known as a "dump cake", which is a TERRIBLE name for a dessert. It makes me think of those godawful "cat box/kitty litter". We'll just call it an "easy crisp", ok?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Thai-Style Chicken in Peanut Sauce

This is one of those recipes where, as soon as I saw it, I KNEW I had to make it. It's incredibly easy and quick to prepare, and has all of the great Thai flavors that I love: salty, sweet, sour & spicy! 

The sauce is the key - its both peanutty and coconutty, creamy and full of flavor. PERFECT for pouring atop some jasmine rice or even rice noodles. I lucked out when I found this recipe - I already had every single ingredient, so no trips to the grocery store! After about 5 minutes of prep work and 20 minutes of cooking (all in one pot, too!), I was sitting down to dinner. 

We also just went from 70° weather yesterday, to upper 30s today, with nonstop drizzling rain, so I needed something warm and comforting - this DEFINITELY fit the bill! 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Simple Strawberry-Banana Smoothie

Recently, I decided to go through the freezers (both the one on top of the fridge AND the chest freezer). I was shocked to see just how many bags of frozen fruit I had stashed away! Since I have so much, I decided it was time to start making smoothies again - I LOVE smoothies for breakfast, and as a quick snack/light meal a few hours before my evening runs. 

This is a pretty simple one - just strawberries and bananas. If you use any kind of protein or shake powder, feel free to add it to the mix. I use almond milk for mine, which keeps this smoothie around 225 calories, with 20 grams of protein!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Southwestern Pasta Salad

I really like pasta salad. I've posted several recipes here before, from my Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad to my Potluck Pasta Salad, along with a Roasted Red Pepper version and the classic BBQ favorite, Hawaiian Pasta Salad. Most pasta salads use mayonnaise, or some form of dressing, which can be a bit unhealthy. 

This version, which has a great Southwestern kick, uses avocado in place of the mayonnaise, which makes the dressing rich and creamy. Sure, there's fat in avocado, but it's the GOOD kind. This salad is also stuffed with protein-rich black beans and plenty of crisp, fresh vegetables as well. If you leave the pasta out, you can even eat this salad as a tip of dip, much like my Texas Caviar

Cake Batter Rice Krispies Treats

Everyone knows about Rice Krispies Treats - the recipe's been on the cereal box for AGES. They're super easy to make (I'm pretty sure you can actually make them in the microwave), and, if you don't feel like actually preparing them yourself, you can even buy them already made

These? These are different. These are CAKE BATTER Rice Krispies Treats (except my cheap-ass used store-brand "Crispy Rice" cereal) . All you need to do is add a bit of dry boxed yellow cake mix (as in, don't prepare the batter or anything), and add some rainbow sprinkles for a bit of fun color. 

I've ALWAYS loved cake batter - nowadays, you can actually buy products with "cake batter" flavor, from ice cream, to even yogurt. This recipe brings back a favorite sticky childhood treat, and the fun of licking the cake batter or brownie mixing spoon, but without the intestinal worms that I never did catch...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Boston Cream Pie

Boston Cream Pie isn't actually pie - the name is a bit of a misnomer. In fact, Boston Cream Pie is actually a cake (specifically, a light, airy sponge cake), filled with a custard filling, then glazed with a thin chocolate ganache. The name comes from the city where this amazing dessert was created - Boston. It was created in 1856 by M. Sanzian, an Armenian-French chef at the Parker House Hotel, and is now considered the official dessert of Massachusetts. 

The combination of flavors is super popular, showing up in pastries such as eclairs and doughnuts. In fact, anytime I try out a new doughnut shop, the ONE pastry I always try is their version of a Boston Cream Pie. So far, Lamar's Bavarian Cream Bar takes the top spot, though at least a half-dozen new doughnut shops have popped up here in Birmingham over the past year, so I'll have to give them a try, too! 

The BF LOVES Boston Cream Pie. Whether it's the Little Debbie version, the Jell-O Pudding version, or even the Yoplait Yogurt version, he'll eat anything with the "Boston Cream" moniker. Though I've found numerous recipes online for Boston Cream Pies made from box mixes, or even as poke cakes, I decided I needed to "do it up right" and make one from scratch, start to finish. It was actually MUCH easier than expected - making/chilling the custard while the cake baked and cooled was a big time-saver! 

So, what did the BF think? Well, he had two big pieces in a row, so I think that's a good sign! 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

Spinach-artichoke was, like, THE dip of the 1990s. It showed up on menu's EVERYWHERE, usually at places like Chili's, Applebee's and Ruby Tuesday (or, as I call those kinds of restaurants, "T.G.I. O'Chilibee's". However, it IS a great dip - rich, creamy, served piping hot with tortilla chips. 

Usually, spinach-artichoke dip contains water chestnuts for crunch, and is baked until bubbling and boiling hot, resulting in countless "pizza cheese burns" (those lovely burn blisters you get RIGHT behind your front two upper teeth from scalding hot pizza cheese). The BF, though, HATES water chestnuts for some inexplicable reason. I assume it's a "texture thing", since water chestnuts don't actually have a discernible flavor. 

This version is great for the water chestnut hater (el boyfriendo), and for the incredibly impatient (your humble food blogger here). There are no water chestnuts at all, and the dip is made entirely on the stovetop in FAR less time than baking would entail - most recipes call for baking the dip for around 30-45 minutes, where this recipe takes more like 10 minutes from start to finish. 

Happy New Year!!

Happy New Year!! I hope you all have a wonderful 2013!

Now, back to the traditional Southern meal for New Year's - black-eyed peas, collard greens, country ham and cornbread!