Monday, March 24, 2014

My other passion

From time to time I will deviate away from the cooking and talk about my other passion....Travel!

I started this as a separate page, but it wasn't working out the way I wanted. So I guess you will have to bear with me a read a little on my love of travel.


I love to travel!  As a young kid my family would travel up and down the East Coast.  Not so much as a big family because of the age difference between me, the youngest,  and my oldest brother which is almost 16 years.  My next oldest sibling is my other brother who is 15 years older, then I have 2 sisters who are 14 and 9 years older.   So my earliest memories are traveling with my older sisters.

Probably the last family trip we took was over 40 some years ago when we headed to Florida for vacation.  Mom, Dad and my two older sisters in the Ford LTD station wagon.  Destination Tampa Florida and possibly a stop at the brand new amusement park, Disney World! I remember sleeping in the back of the station wagon, behind the back seat and in front of the luggage back there.  We traveled with a Trip-tik from AAA.  We started our trip at night a few days before Christmas after having dinner at a friends house and we made our first stop the next day in Orangeburg  S.C. That was after we stopped at South of the Border.






 I remember that I got the game sorry as a Christmas gift.  My sisters and I played it in the hotel room.  From Orangeburg South Carolina to Tampa the next day. We stayed one night in a hotel downtown before moving to the Hawaiian Village.   I remember eating at a Sambo's and playing in the hotel rooms.  My mom says I was amazed that the bathroom had a telephone in it. 
I fondly remember sitting by the pool - they had two pools and we referred to them as the "Hot Pool and the Cool Pool", we ate at the waffle house and enjoyed our time away.  For my parents it was a much needed rest.  They had the diner at this time and when you own a diner you are up early in the morning and get to bed late at night.  The one good things was they didn't have far to go because we lived right above it. 

We never made it to Disney World.  We didn't have hotel reservations made and the park had just opened.  The closet we could get was Gainesville where we spent another night before our trip back north. 

Travel brings great memories, brings family together and increases your knowledge.  We travel with our kids and it has been a great education for them.  They have been on the road since they were babies.  Aruba, Bahama's, San Francisco, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Hawaii and even a cruise.  In just over a month we take our first trip to Europe.

So with travel comes adventures, new foods and new inspirations.    Looking forward to writing about our trips!  



Sunday, March 23, 2014

The places I will take you!

I remember those words over 22 years ago. We were on our honeymoon in St. Lucia, a few days into our week long stay.  Our wedding went off without a hitch, but the honeymoon didn't start off so well.  We had some plane problems in Charlotte that made us miss our connection in Puerto Rico to St Lucia.  We spent our first night in a hotel paid for by the airline in Downtown San Juan with several other honeymoon couples in the same predicament as us.  I remember sitting in the hotel bar  sharing stories our  big day.  The next morning it was back to the airport and off to our tropical honeymoon.

Well, the plans changed once we got there and saw our villa that we booked. Sometimes pictures don't portray the real image of what your are getting.  We ended up moving to a resort nearby for the duration of our stay.  It was a beautiful hotel and a beautiful island that one day I hope to go back to, but what I remember was the promise my husband made to me during that trip.  He knew that our adventures were just beginning and one moonlight night he told me that this was just the beginning of the places he would take me.

He has stayed true to his promise because we are no strangers to travel.  Either with our kids or without them we have taken some memorable trips.  From Florida to California, Arizona and Hawaii, we have traveled the USA.  We have cruised the Caribbean, snorkel end in the Islands, biked through Napa Valley.   All of these trips are memories that will last a life time.  And no one can take your memories away.



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Chicken Tortilla Casserole




Two trays of roasted chicken sitting in our refrigerator and no real plans or it.   What do you do? Search the internet for new chicken casserole recipes.  When we did we stumbled upon this tasty recipe.  The dish makes plenty, enough for a few nights of left overs.

Also good for a great #sundaysupper, especially with this cold weather we are hanging on too.  

Tortilla Chicken Casserole

Ingredients

8 flour tortillas
3 cups COOKED chopped chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped red pepper
19oz black beans
14oz canned corn
1 tsp chili powder
3 cups salsa
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 1/2 cup jalapeno monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
Directions
Preheat oven to 350. Spray a casserole dish large enough to fit tortillas. Heat olive oil in sautéing pan; sauté onion and red pepper for 5 minutes, until softened. Mix in chili powder, remove from heat, stir in black beans and corn. 

In a medium bowl, mix salsa and sour cream. Layer tortilla, salsa mixture, chicken, tortilla, vegetables, cheeses. Repeat 4 times, or until you reach the top of the casserole. *NOTE: Stop layering once you reach the top of your casserole dish and top with cheese* Cover and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake 10-15 minutes longer or until cheese is bubbly and browning. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and cut into 12 pie shaped wedges.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Lenten favorite with Melina's lemon ravioli


Friday night, 3 weeks into the Lenten season and time to break out the recipe book of Lenten favorite.  Hubby had been away for a few days for work and on his way home he called me to see what the plans were for dinner.  I knew I would be home late because the kiddos both had practice tonight and I would have to go over to get them.  I suggested that he stop and pick up some scallops or shrimp.  I knew we had several recipes to choose from.  

When I did arrive home he had grabbed the ingredients for mustard roasted tilapia.  He had picked up the Creme Fraiche, the two different mustards and remembered we had the shallots and the capers needed to complete this dish.  

As I discover our dinner fate and prepping the ingredients I was thinking about what we had to accompany this dish.  There would be a little of the sauce left over that I could use if needed.  Then I recalled that we had a batch of Melina's Lemon Ravioli in the freezer.  I could use the ravioli and top with a little bit of the Creme Fraiche and mustard sauce. So dinner plans were set and I started cooking.  30 minutes later our Lenten meatless dinner was on the table.  The fish was very mild and delicious and the ravioli had such a great flavor it really didn't need a sauce.  Thanks Melina....need to replenish my supply of fresh pasta. 

You can now order pasta on line.  Visit www.melinaskitchen.com and please note that she is  NOW SHIPPING NATIONWIDE through Heirloom Provisions www.heirloomprovisions.com.  To Order: email info@melinaspasta.com or call 919-429-9850


Mustard Roasted Tilapia

Ingredients
4 (8-ounce) fish fillets such as tilapia
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces creme fraiche
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons drained capers


Directions
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. (You can also use an ovenproof baking dish.) Place the fish fillets skin side down on the sheet pan. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

Combine the creme fraiche, 2 mustards, shallots, capers, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Spoon the sauce evenly over the fish fillets, making sure the fish is completely covered. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, until it's barely done. (The fish will flake easily at the thickest part when it's done.) Be sure not to overcook it! Serve hot or at room temperature with the sauce from the pan spooned over the top.





Fish is prepped for roasting.  Make sure you use parchment paper and cover the fish completely.



Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lemon Love


If you followed me on Facebook you would know that I was possibly going to be making this cake this weekend.  Two words that peaked my interest: Lemon and Cake!  The recipe was posted on Friday and when I showed it to hubby he said ok!  Why wouldn't he!  He loves the taste of lemons.  I also wanted to visit my mom today.  She had given me a list of yarn to pick up for her.  Anytime we go out there we like to take her something a little sweet.   When I came down stairs this morning he already had the eggs and butter out.  We learned a long time ago that when a recipe calls for these ingredients it is best to have then room temperature.  

So following church this morning, we stopped by Starbucks for coffee, which is getting to be our post church routine, then stopped at the craft store to pick up the yarn for my mother and came home to start baking.  I wanted to get the cake mixed, baked and set out to cool so we could take some to my mom.  She is just like hubby and loves any kind of lemon cake.  In the mean time hubby was mixing up our dinner, which will be posted at a later date. The kitchen was cleaned up and the cake was all ready to go at 1:30 and so were we.   

Mom was happy with my yarn selection, which will keep her busy, and happy with the treats we brought.  We finally got to try it after dinner tonight and I am happy to say - It's a keeper!


Ingredients
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 cups sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup shortening, room temperature
5 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
6 Tbsp lemon juice
1 lemon, zested


Directions
Preheat oven to 350F
Spray or butter and flour 2 loaf pans or one large Bundt pan.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, cream together butter, shortening and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating until well blended after each one.
Add dry ingredients in three additions to butter mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Mix in lemon juice and zest. 
Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool cakes in pans for 15 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks and cool completely.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Chicken, pancetta and mushrooms

Today was another high school milestone.  We went shopping for our daughters senior prom dress.  The shopping choices went from over crowded speciality shop with at least an hour wait for a dressing room to several mall stores where you could just walk right in and grab a dressing room.  Maybe not the 1000 dresses to choose from, but a great selection of dresses that make a beautiful little girl into a beautiful young women.

Even at the mall we found some of the dresses that were at the overcrowded prom shop, probably at better prices too!    Our little girl will look stunning with her final selection. When we started shopping she was leaning towards a dress that was very similar to last years, but in the end she picked a winner and made a fabulous selection. Sorry, you have to wait two months to see it!

While we were leaving the mall I was browsing Facebook and came across a recipe from Cooking Light for chicken with pancetta and peas.  It looked really good and pretty easy to make.  I showed it to hubby and we agreed that our dinner had been selected.  All we needed to do was head to the grocery store and pick up some of the ingredients.  Before we left he was browsing the reviews and someone had mentioned adding mushrooms.   That was a pretty easy add for us. Knowing that the pancetta and the garlic had to be sautéd we decided that the mushrooms could follow as just one more step.  So here is our version of Cooking Light's Chicken with pancetta and peas.








Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 8 oz. baby Bella mushrooms sliced
  • (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves 
  • 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
  • 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
  • 2 tablespoons water 
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour 
  • 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed 
  • Jasmine rice as a starch

Preparation

  1. 1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove garlic from pan using a slotted spoon; reserve garlic. Increase heat to medium-high. Add pancetta; sauté 4 minutes or until crisp. Remove pancetta from pan using a slotted spoon; reserve pancetta. Add mushrooms and sauté until tender.  Remove mushrooms with slotted spoon and save. 
  2. 2. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper; sauté 4 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan. Add wine; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook until the liquid almost evaporates (about 3 minutes). Return chicken to pan. Add stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook for 6 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove chicken from pan.
  3. 3. Add mascarpone to pan, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Combine water and flour, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to pan; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes; stir in pancetta, garlic, mushrooms and peas. Cook 1 minute. Serve sauce over chicken and rice.



Friday, March 14, 2014

Spicy Mac and Cheese for Lent



When spring rolls around, well hopefully it will soon, we look forward to Easter and some warmer weather.   In our house this time of year means the annual Lenten favorites are prepared  on Friday evenings.  Our recipe binder is bursting with fish, shrimp and scallop entrees. There is also the traditional macaroni  and cheese, the blue cheese mac and cheese and now this spicy delight.  

Last weekend, Giada from across the street and I co chaired a used book sale at our kids school.  We had been preparing for this for a couple of weeks with advertising, prepping signs and getting student volunteers.  Friday was just the beginning of our 20 hour stint in the school cafeteria lifting, arranging, moving and selling books to benefit the after the prom party.  We both arrived at the school  around 1:30  in the afternoon.  By 4 p.m. the  books had all been moved into the cafeteria and the sorting had begun.  We officially opened our doors around 5 p.m. for the early bird buyers.  By 7 p.m., closing time for day one, we had made about $200 and were both pretty beat.  Muscles ached, backs were sore and we still had to drive home, eat dinner, get some rest to get back to the school by 8:30 the next day. 

Luckily for us Hubby had made dinner and had everything ready to go.  He picked up a salad and some Gorgonzola bread, roasted some butternut squash and prepared this tasty new Lenten favorite.  Once we arrived home and after a quick cleanup, Giada and her hubby crossed the street bringing with them a nice bottle of wine and dessert.  Dinner was delicious, but the we were quite tired.  Thank you to my Hubby for making us dinner.   

P.s.  He even made cookies on Saturday and brought them over to the sale.  What a guy!


 Jalapeño Popper Mac and Cheese

Ingredients

Kosher salt
1 pound elbow macaroni
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 jalapenos, 2 finely chopped and 1 thinly sliced
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces sharp Cheddar, shredded (about 3 cups)
3 ounces Gruyere, shredded (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup pickled jalapenos, finely chopped, and 1/3 cup pickled jalapeno juice
1/8 to1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Directions

Set an oven rack 6 inches from the heat source and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until it is al dente, about 6 minutes. Strain, reserving 1 3/4 cups of the pasta water. Set aside.

Melt the unsalted butter in a large saucepan over medium heat; transfer half the melted butter to a medium bowl and reserve. Add the chopped jalapenos to the saucepan, toss to coat and cook until softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to a small bowl and reserve.

Wipe out the saucepan and add the half-and-half. Cook over medium heat until it just comes to a simmer. Continue simmering until the half-and-half is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes. Add the cream cheese and stir until melted. Whisk in the Cheddar and Gruyere until all the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth.

Add the macaroni and reserved pasta water and stir to combine. (The mixture will look very loose, but the pasta will suck up a lot of the sauce as it bakes.) Gently fold in the reserved cooked jalapenos, pickled jalapenos and pickled jalapeno juice. Season with salt and cayenne if needed. Pour into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Toss the bread crumbs in the bowl with the reserved melted butter and a sprinkle of salt. Sprinkle evenly over the macaroni and cheese. Lay the sliced jalapenos evenly on top of the bread crumbs. Bake until the cheese is bubbly and the bread crumbs are lightly browned and crispy, about 10 minutes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Well Hello Dolly! And Let's Say GOODBYE WINTER!

Chocolate and Coconut Hello Dolly Bars



Will this winter ever end?  Yesterday it was 53 degrees and sunny when I left work. Look at the weather now.  I have had enough of this white stuff to last me for the next 5 years.  There was no school today and the roads got so bad that hubby and I came home from work early.  It is a great thing to have the capability to work while we are at home and keep on top of emails and projects we are working on.  For Hubby it was a day to work on some necessary administrative stuff.   For me I got a chance to clean out my emails and follow up on a few areas that I haven't had the time to.  

During this snow day I also whipped up a batch of Hello Dolly's chocolate and coconut bars. Pretty simple to make and pretty tasty too.  I had pinned this one a while back to my "Let them eat cake and cookies" board on Pinterest.  I found them on a board called Inspired by Charm when I first joined.  Lucky for me all of the ingredients were on hand.  For the graham cracker crumbs I used 2 sleeves of Honey Grahams and crushed them in my food processor.  





 



3 cups finely ground graham crackers (12 ounces)
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup pecan pieces
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed mik
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut

Optional:  1/2 cup milk chocolate chips (melted) for drizzling at the end

Let’s get baking:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly splash a 10-by-15″ rimmed baking sheet evenly with water, then line with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together graham cracker crumbs, cocoa powder, sugar, and butter until combined. Press evenly onto bottom and up sides of prepared baking sheet. Bake, rotating halfway through, until firm (about 10 minutes). Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and cool for about 20 minutes.

Sprinkle cooled crust evenly with pecans and chocolate. Pour condensed milk over the top, spreading to cover completely (Do not let it drip over the edges.). Sprinkle with coconut.

Bake until coconut is toasted, 10 to 15 minutes. Place on wire rack and let cool completely.

If desired, drizzle with melted chocolate. Allow to cool and harden.

Trim edges, if needed, and cut into equal-size bars.





Saturday, March 1, 2014

Cleaning out the Pantry - Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies!

Sunday afternoon hubby was itching to make a dessert for dinner that night.  He had thought about and oatmeal cranberry bar that we have made before.  I believe it was from cooking light about 5 years ago that he first made these.  They are very tasty and not too fattening.  Perfect way to have something sweet and stay on track for looking good in those shorts and sundresses this summer.

When we stopped at the grocery store he picked up a few of the ingredients that he could remember from the recipe - an orange for orange zest and a quart of whole milk.  No substitutions' in our house when it comes to dairy ingredients.  He asked me if we had the dried cranberries at home, which I assured him that we did.  Some in the pantry and some down in the basement on the reserve shelves we have for frequently needed items.  Even before we left the store he said "are you sure?" Yes, I am positive. 

Well, the time came to make the bars and what we were lacking was enough of the quick oats for the recipe.  We had rolled oats and we had quick oats, but not enough of each to make them.  I started pulling out bins from the pantry and came up with a open bag of white chocolate morsels. There was enough of them to make these delicious cookies. 
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Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

     

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
 1 teaspoon baking powder                
1/4 teaspoon salt                
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar   
2 large eggs             
1 1/2 cups white chocolate morsels
1 (6-ounce) package sweetened dried cranberries

Preparation

Combine flour and next 3 ingredients; set aside. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Add flour mixture to butter mixture gradually, beating at low speed until blended. Stir in white chocolate morsels and cranberries.
















Drop cookie dough by heaping tablespoonful's onto lightly greased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned on bottom. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.
 
 

 
 
 
So, this was our dessert last Sunday night.  And Monday night , Tuesday night, morning snack on Wednesday, a mid day snack on Thursday and then Hubby found the last two yesterday and finished them off. 
 
Hey, I think it is time he made some more cookies! The pantry is empty.