Tuesday, April 15, 2014

BBQ Chicken Bacon Ranch Spinach Salad with Avocado

Sometimes simple combinations lead to the most delicious creations.  I know you probably don't even need me to post a recipe like this because anyone could easily whip this up.  However, maybe this will serve as inspiration for an easy weeknight meal or remind you that salads really can be delicious!  Considering this salad would probably easily sell for about $10 in a restaurant, it's also good to know that you can create better-than-restaurant quality salads at home for a fraction of the cost!

P.S. Please excuse the low quality photo - I just snapped it quick with my phone before devouring the salad!

BBQ Chicken Bacon Ranch Spinach Salad 
Makes about 3-4 servings

1-2 Chicken breasts, thinly sliced or cut in small chunks
1 tbs light olive oil
1 bag of spinach 
2-3 mushrooms, sliced
1/2 small onion, sliced
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 avocado, sliced and cubed
3-4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2-3 TBS BBQ sauce
Salt & Pepper 
Ranch dressing

Heat medium sized skillet on stove until hot and add oil.  When oil is hot, add pieces of chicken to pan and cook for about 4 minutes on each side until no longer pink.  Remove from stove.  Meanwhile cook bacon (I usually do this on a plate with paper towel in the microwave but you can either cook it on the stove or in the oven).  When chicken is cooked, remove from pan and place into small bowl.  Mix with BBQ sauce and add salt & pepper to taste.  Mix all salad ingredients together in large bowl or portion into smaller bowls depending on how many people you are serving.  Add BBQ chicken pieces and top with ranch dressing.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sweet Potato Hash with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

One of my favorite things to do is to try a new recipe based solely on what I have on hand in the kitchen.  Usually if you type in a few of the ingredients you have online, you can find almost any recipe.  Sometimes it works better than others.  Luckily, this time it worked – and the result was delicious!  This would make a great main course for a brunch with friends, a weekend breakfast – or in our case, it made for an easy weeknight dinner option!  Gotta love breakfast for dinner! 

If you’re not a fan of brussels sprouts or if you’ve never tried them – I urge you to still give this a shot.  I personally never thought I liked brussels sprouts until a few months ago but it was only because I never really tried them – and the one time I did I think it was at a restaurant and they were simply steamed and not as tasty.  Don’t knock em till you try em…especially caramelized and roasted with some shallots & bacon.  Yum. Now they are pretty much a staple veggie in our house!  

Enjoy :)

Sweet Potato Hash with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon
Serves 2

4 strips bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 small shallot, diced
1 small sweet potato, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 clove garlic, chopped            
½ pound brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced
salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs

Cook the bacon in a pan (preferably cast iron if you have it or non-stick) over medium heat until crisp.  Remove bacon and set aside.

Add the shallot and sweet potato to the same pan you cooked the bacon in and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes.

Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about a minute.

Add the brussels sprouts, saute until tender, about 5 minutes, let sit until the bottoms start to caramelize, about 5 minutes.  Mix everything, let sit for 5 minutes and mix it all up again.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Create 2 small wells in the hash, add the eggs and cook until the desired level of doneness.  Typically, you might see a hash topped with two fried eggs.  We prefer our eggs scrambled so I whisked them in a small bowl before adding them to the pan.   However, if you prefer a fried egg on top, you can place the pan in the oven to finish cooking the eggs and to ensure that the tops of the eggs cook fully.

Recipe adapted from Closet Cooking 


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Honey Lemon Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I'm in the stage of life where all my friends are having babies.  Literally...almost all of them.  Over the last few years there have been countless weddings...and now, the babies.  Since I probably won't be in their shoes for a while, it's kind of nice to live vicariously through them and hold their babies and watch them experience pregnancy before I have to go through it.  Hopefully someday, God willing, I will be a little bit more prepared because I was able to learn from my friends. 

One of my dear friends had her baby shower recently and I had the pleasure of making the cupcakes for the event.  The baby mama is a huge fan of any thing "lemon" so it was no surprise to me that she requested lemon cupcakes.  I'm a huge fan too.  

The honey & lemon compliment each other nicely in these cupcakes and the cream cheese frosting tops them off with just enough sweetness.  I garnished them with lemon zest but you can feel free to get creative!  Lemon twists or slices would be beautiful as well! 

Honey Lemon Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting 
Makes 12-15 Cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. lemon zest

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract – but the real vanilla bean makes pretty little specks in the frosting and tastes yummy!)
1 tsp. lemon juice
Pinch of salt
6 cups powdered sugar

To make the Honey Lemon Cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with baking cups.

Using an electric stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until just combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a smaller bowl, combine milk, honey, vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest.

Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating until just combined. Add in the milk mixture, then add the remaining flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Fill baking cups 2/3 of the way full (using a ¼ measuring cup usually works well for measuring your batter into the baking cups).  Bake for 17-19 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. 

Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the Cream Cheese Frosting:

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, lemon juice, vanilla and salt on low until smooth.   Gradually add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, on low speed until smooth.  Frost cooled cupcakes.

Recipe adapted from Gimme Some Oven 

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Restaurant Style Mac & Cheese

Mac & cheese has always been one of my favorite comfort foods.  Sometimes you just need a good bowl of mac & cheese, right?  Growing up, of course my mom purchased the boxed mac & cheese - usually an off brand but occasionally we were lucky enough to get the Kraft brand...and even luckier if we got the "shapes" kind.  For some reason the shapes noodles just tasted better...or maybe it was all in my head. 

Now, I'm basically anti-boxed mac & cheese since discovering various homemade versions over the years. It is SO much better from scratch!  One of my favorite recipes is a spicy mac & cheese but this recipe is a tamed down version using american cheese to give it more of that creamy "restaurant style."  In all honesty, I would normally never buy processed american cheese because I prefer "real" cheese...but I happened to need it for another meal so it worked great to have it on hand for mac & cheese.   This is a very kid friendly dish and makes enough to feed a large family or have enough for leftovers throughout the week! 

Restaurant Style Mac & Cheese 
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped (1/4 cup)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ tsp. mustard powder
½ tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 ¾ cups almond milk
12-15 oz. American cheese (or about 15-20 slices), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 oz. pepper jack cheese

Heat oven to 375°F. Cook and drain macaroni as directed on package using minimum cook time – or even a little less so it is al dente.

Meanwhile, in 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Cook onion and spices in butter, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender.

In small bowl, mix flour and milk until smooth; stir into onion mixture. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute; remove from heat. Stir in cheese until melted.  In large bowl, mix cooked macaroni with cheese sauce mixture.  Pour into about a 2 quart casserole dish.

Bake about 30 minutes or until bubbly and light brown.