Saturday, April 30, 2011

Mixed Green Salad with Pears, Goat Cheese, and a Fig Vinaigrette



When I came across this pretty looking salad, I thought it looked perfect as a light side dish for the crab leg dinner that my parents were making for us while we were visiting Kansas City for my sister's bridal shower.  I honestly don't think I had ever eaten figs before I made this, but I loved it in the dressing.  I used my favorite 18-year balsamic vinegar, which made for such a great flavor....make sure you use really good balsamic in this!

The salad was elegant enough for a special occasion or holiday, and it was easy and simple.  I loved this salad, but Kevin thought it would be better with some chopped walnuts or sliced almonds so I'll probably try that next time.  The recipe below makes the perfect amount of salad for 6 people.

Ingredients:

6 cups mixed salad greens
1-1/2 cups thinly, sliced, cored Bosc pear
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese (I think I probably used more than this)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
5 dried Mission figs, stemmed and coarsely chopped
6 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt (I used coarse sea salt)

Directions:

Combine balsamic vinegar and dried Mission figs (stemmed and chopped) in a small saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 5 minutes.

Combine the fig mixture, water and fresh lemon juice in a blender or use you immersion blender, and process until smooth.

In a small bowl (or use a mason jar so you can just shake it up) add the blended fig mixture with shallots, fresh thyme, crushed garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and Kosher salt. Stir or shake well to combine.

Thinly slice your Bosc pear, leaving the skin on. Place 1 cup greens on each of six plates; topping each serving with 1/4 cup pear and 2 teaspoons goat cheese. Drizzle vinaigrette over each serving.

Source:  The Noble Pig Blog

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sesame Noodles with Shrimp



These sesame noodles are so yummy, and the addition of shrimp to the original recipe made it even better!  This meal was a little bit sweet and a little bit spicy and totally beats take-out. 

Luckily, I've been cooking a lot of Asian food lately so I had almost all of the ingredients already.  I was able to quickly throw together this recipe for an easy weeknight meal that didn't take a lot of effort.....the most time consuming part was peeling the shrimp and waiting for the water for the pasta to boil.  All in all, definitely doable after a long, tiring day.

To make this even better next time I make it, I will add in some fresh minced ginger at the same time as the garlic, and I will also add some chopped cilantro when I serve it (I have reflected these changes on the recipe below).

Ingredients:

1 (16 ounce) package linguine pasta (I might try whole wheat next time)
3/4 lb. raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined with the tail removed, and seasoned with salt and pepper
EVOO
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
4 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons safflower oil (you can substitute canola oil if you want to, but I like to keep safflower oil on hand for when I make stir-fry)
6 tablespoons rice vinegar
6 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sweet Asian chili sauce
1 teaspoon Sriracha
6 green onions, sliced
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Directions:

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add pasta, and cook until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat about a tablespoon of EVOO in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook until just pink (about a minute per side for medium shrimp and slightly longer for larger shrimp).  Remove the cooked shrimp from the pan and set aside.

Keep the skillet over medium-high heat and add a tablespoon of the safflower oil to the skillet.  Stir in garlic and ginger and sautee for about a minute.  Add sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sweet Asian chili sauce, Sriracha, and the rest of the safflower oil. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves.

Mix the sauce with the cooked linguine and the shrimp, and toss to coat. Garnish with green onions, cilantro, and sesame seeds.

Source:  Adapted from allrecipes

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pork Tinga Tacos



I'm usually not a huge fan of many slowcooker recipes....I like the concept of dumping a bunch of ingredients into the slowcooker and coming come 8 hours later to a delicious meal, but I find that a lot of slowcooker recipes are just too mushy for me.  When I stumbled upon this pork taco recipe that came from Rick Bayless, I decided to give my slowcooker another shot.....I'm glad I did!

Being a slowcooker recipe, this is very quick and easy.  You should make this when you can find some avocados at a good price.....I can't believe how expensive they are some weeks!  At my grocery store this week, they are $2 each....what?!  I know they're not in season yet, but geez that's crazy.  When I made these tacos, I was lucky that I found avocados for $0.75 a piece at my local fruit and vegetable market. 

Just a warning - this recipe makes a ton of taco filling.....I immediately froze about half of it to use at a later date, and we still had more than enough for Kevin and I to eat for dinner that night plus leftovers another night.  It was very good and pretty healthy by my standards.

Ingredients:

1 lb. redskin or Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2″ cubes (I used 5 or 6 medium-sized yukon golds)
2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1″ pieces and seasoned generously with salt and pepper
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
3-4 chipotles in adobo, chopped
1 Tbsp. adobo sauce (which is just the sauce that canned chipotles come in)
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. dried oregano (I used Italian seasoning instead)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium white onion, sliced 1/4″ thick
1 1/2 tsp. salt

For serving-
4 oz. fresh Mexican chorizo sausage (optional, but recommended - I used 7 ounces)
24 warm corn tortillas (I like white corn tortillas with this recipe.....if non-fried corn tortillas are not your thing, I think flour tortillas would taste good with this recipe too)
1 cup crumbled Mexican queso fresco (or other fresh cheese, such as feta or goat cheese)
2 large avocados, diced (don't leave out....the avocado really adds a lot to these tacos!)
cilantro, chopped

Directions:

Spread the potatoes over the bottom of a slowcooker and top with the pork.

In a large bowl, mix the (undrained) tomatoes with the chipotles, adobo sauce, Worcestershire, oregano or Italian seasoning, garlic, onion, and about 1.5 tsp. salt. Pour the mixture evenly over the meat and potatoes.

Cover and slowcook on high for 6 hours or low for 8-10 hours.

When you’re ready to eat, fry the optional chorizo and then stir everything together, breaking the pork into smaller pieces. Taste and season with additional salt if necessary.

Serve with warm tortillas, cheese, cilantro, and avocados for making soft tacos.

Source:  Smells Like Home Blog, Originally from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless

Friday, April 22, 2011

Scallops with White Wine Lemon Butter Sauce



Alright, I know this photo is not good at all (I wish I could buy a DSLR camera.....but maybe someday), but I still had to post this because these scallops were so freaking good!  If you want to see a great picture of how these scallops should look, check them out at Confections of a Foodie Bride (which is where I found this recipe) because her photo is amazing.

These scallops were originally called carmelized scallops, but I had to change the name because I obviously didn't get a good sear on my scallops.  I'm no scallop expert, but I think mine didn't sear like I had hoped because 1 - I didn't have my pan screaming hot when I put the scallops in, 2 - I used a non-stick pan, and 3 - I just used regular butter, not clarified butter.  I did make sure to dry the scallops, but next time I will make sure I use a really hot pan that isn't a nonstick.

Regardless, these scallops were great and had an amazing flavor.  The lemony, buttery wine sauce goes perfectly with the scallops.  I served these with some gnocchi with a light alfredo sauce, and it was a great meal for two.....I wouldn't have minded a couple of extra scallops :)

Ingredients:

12 large scallops (around a pound)
Pinch of kosher salt (I always use coarse sea salt)
Freshly cracked black pepper
4 Tbsp clarified butter (I admit it....I'm too lazy to make clarified butter....I just used 4 T. of regular, salted butter)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 lemon, zested and squeezed
1 Tbsp parsley, finely chopped (I left this out because I didn't have any)
8 chives, chopped (Hooray for my chives which are now coming back after sitting outside all winter!  I didn't even know they did that!)

Directions:

Heat butter on medium high.

Pat scallops dry. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Spread sugar on a plate and dip one side of each scallop into the sugar before placing it (sugar side down) into the saute pan.

Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until the scallops are nicely seared (don't overcook or they will be rubbery!). Remove scallops from the pan and cover with foil to keep warm. Add wine and lemon juice to the pan and reduce the sauce by half.

Serve scallops topped with pan sauce, lemon zest, parsley, and chives. 

Source:  Found on Confections of a Foodie Bride Originally from Cristina Ferrare's Big Bowl of Love

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Asian Lettuce Wraps



I have to admit that before I made these, I'd never actually eaten lettuce wraps.....a meal without carbs?!  How could that be???  I stumbled across this recipe on The Noble Pig blog and decided to give it a try since I've been trying to eat a little healthier lately.

I'm glad I gave this a try because it made a tasty, healthy meal for us.  I'll admit that I wouldn't have turned down some eggrolls or potstickers to go with this, but it was definitely filling on it's own and good for my waistline.  I also loved the presentation, and I think this would make a good appetizer when you're entertaining guests.  I will definitely be making these again :)

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 pounds ground turkey or ground pork (I used a 1.25 lb. package of ground turkey)
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 Tablespoons teriyaki sauce
1 cup bean sprouts
2 carrots, shredded (about 1 cup)
24 large Boston or butter lettuce leaves (I used 1 head of butter lettuce....you could also use regular iceberg lettuce to cut the costs a little bit)
Soy sauce, for serving

Directions:

Warm oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion and saute until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add garlic, saute 1 minute longer.

Stir in turkey and cook, stirring until almost cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add broth and hoisin sauce. Cook, stirring and breaking up clumps of turkey, until turkey is cooked through and some of the liquid cooks down, 5 to 7 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in teriyaki sauce, bean sprouts and carrots. (You should have about 6 cups of filling).

Either spoon about 1/4 cup of filling into center of each lettuce leaf, or serve like I did below so that each person can just make their own lettuce wraps.  Serve with soy sauce if desired.



Source:  The Noble Pig

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chili and the 2011 Chicago Blizzard...



Even though it's mid-April, I decided to post my go-to chili recipe because it's so freaking cold in Chicago today!  When I woke up this morning, there was actually a tiny bit of snow on the ground :(  WTF!  Why won't spring just come already?

Here's a look back at a few pictures I took around our condo during "The 2011 Chicago Blizzard."  I'm so glad that it's (hopefully) going to be warm soon!   Here's a picture of all of the snow accumulating on our deck mid-way through the blizzard:


It took a couple of days before the city even plowed our side street.....I was student teaching at the time (which I drove to in the suburbs), and I was so glad that school was cancelled for two days because there's no way I could have gotten my car out!  Luckily we have an enclosed garage spot, but there was no way I would have been able to get through our alley. 

The sidewalks were too deep to walk through at first, so we took Windy down the tire tracks in the middle of the street for her walks.


I had to take a picture of the car below because I couldn't believe how high the snow drift was!  I feel bad for whoever had to dig this car out....


There were gigantic piles of snow everywhere after our sidewalks got plowed.....


Windy's loving the snow :)


Anyway, back to the chili.....if it's cold where you are, and you want one last pot of chili before it gets warm for good, give this recipe a try.  This is my favorite basic chili recipe (with no beans, but you could certainly add some if you like that).  As always, make sure to taste while you cook and season with plenty of salt and pepper!  I love making this on a Sunday so that we can eat up leftovers during the week.  I have also frozen leftovers to eat later, and this freezes very well.

Ingredients:

2 pounds ground beef
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. chili powder
1 T. cumin
1 T. dried Italian Seasoning
3 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
1 (28 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 bottle or can of good beer (IPA's are my personal favorite for drinking and cooking)
salt and pepper, to taste
shredded sharp cheddar cheese, saltine crackers, and cilantro (for serving)

Directions:

1.  Drink half of your bottle of beer.....yummy....then set the other half aside.  Combine ground beef, onion, and garlic in large stockpot. Cook and stir over medium heat until beef is brown. Drain.

2.  Stir in chili powder,cumin, italian seasoning, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and the remaining half of your bottle of beer; break up tomatoes while stirring. Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste (sometimes I'll also add more chili powder and cumin if it needs it).  Heat to boiling, reduce heat to simmer, and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.  Taste again and re-season as needed.

3.  Serve with shredded cheddar cheese, saltine crackers, and cilantro.

Source:  Adapted from Allrecipes

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Thai Chicken Flatbread Pizza



Just thinking about this thai chicken flatbread makes me want to put it on the menu again for next week.....and I just might do that!  It tastes amazing, and it's really quick to put together.  I'll admit, I'm too lazy to make my own pizza crust most of the time (and I'm not into using Pillsbury or Boboli crusts anymore), but I found a solution that I have been using whenever I want a super thin crust pizza.....store bought flatbread!  I buy packaged flatbread from the bread section of my grocery store, top it with whatever I want on my pizza, and bake at 450 degrees for about 8 minutes or so.

There are a lot of different flatbread pizzas that I have to share, but this one is the hands-down winner for both Kevin and me.  Just a warning....the sriracha that I top it with makes it very spicy so if spicy is not your thing you might want to leave it off.  I didn't measure to find exact measurements when I made this, but I tried to give my best estimates.  Try this great combination, it's a great pizza :)

Ingredients:

2 pieces of store-bought flatbread (you can of course substitute your favorite pizza crust)
A little over half of a 7 oz. jar of peanut sauce (or enough to thinly spread all over your pizza crust)
1/2 lb. cooked chicken, diced into small, bite-sized pieces
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (you can use more or less depending on your tastes....I think I probably used a little more than this!)
4 scallions, chopped
2 jalapenos, chopped
3/4 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Sriracha hot sauce, to taste

Directions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2.  Spread the peanut sauce all over the flatbread crust in a thin layer.  Arrange the chicken pieces over the pizza.  Sprinkle on the shredded cheese, jalapenos, and the scallions.

3.  Bake for about 8 minutes, or until the cheese has completely melted and the crust has browned a little (you'll probably need to cook this a bit longer if you use regular pizza crust instead of flatbread).  Top cooked pizza with shredded carrots, cilantro, and sriracha (be careful - a little goes a long way.....you can look at the amount I used in a picture to give you an idea of how much to use if you want it very spicy).

This is sooooo good!


Source:  Inspired by lots of restaurants where I've had something similiar and from a recipe I saw on allrecipes

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tomato Vodka Sauce



Mmmmm.....I love tomato vodka sauce.  This recipe is super easy and so much better than jarred store-bought sauce.  It has a great flavor, and I have used it for the past couple of years whenever I need tomato vodka sauce.  The recipe makes quite a bit of sauce so I would recommend using half of it when you make it and freeze the other half for a later time.  This time, I served the sauce with gnocchi, but you could use this with any pasta. 

You can easily add some sauteed shrimp or cooked italian sausage with this sauce for a heartier meal, and you can change up the ingredients to fit your own tastes.  The original recipe called for canned diced tomatoes, which you can use if you like a chunky sauce.  I kind of prefer my tomato vodka sauce to be smooth and creamy so that's why I used canned tomato sauce (or you could also use canned crushed tomatoes).

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 T. minced garlic
1 (28 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or a little more if you like your sauce spicy)
salt and pepper to taste
gnocchi or pasta and parmesan cheese for serving

Directions:

1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt better with oil; add onion and saute for around 6-8 minutes or until transparent.  Add the minced garlic and saute for about 2 more minutes.

2. Add tomato sauce and cook for about 15-20 minutes; stir frequently.

3.  Increase heat and add cream, vodka and red pepper flakes; boil for 2 minutes or until thickened to sauce consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve with cooked gnocchi or your favorite pasta, and add some parmesan cheese for extra flavor :)

Source:  Slightly adapted from allrecipes

Monday, April 11, 2011

Island Spice Pork Tenderloin



Before trying this recipe, my opinion on pork tenderloin was, ehhh.....it's okay.  This recipe totally changed my outlook...this is now by far by new favorite pork tenderloin recipe!  The sweet and spicy combination of the rub and glaze add an amazing flavor to the pork. 

This is casual and easy enough for a weeknight meal at home, but it's also impressive and tasty enough to serve to company.  This one's a keeper (and I've made it several times)!  I know that the USDA says to cook pork to 160 degrees, but don't believe them....They also say to cook steak to 145 degrees which is a sin (medium-rare is around 130 degrees)!  By serving your pork tenderloin at around 150ish (pork is actually safe once it reaches 137), you will ensure that you have a juicy flavorful meat instead of a dried out tenderloin.

Ingredients:

For the spice rub:
2 tsp. kosher salt (I used coarse sea salt)
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 pork tenderloins, about 2-2½ lbs. total (I just made 1 pork tenderloin that was a little less than 2 lbs.)
2 tbsp. olive oil

For the glaze:
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tbsp. (2-3 cloves) finely minced garlic
1½ tsp. Tabasco sauce (Sriracha sauce would also be good here!)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Stir together the spice rub ingredients in a small bowl.  Rub the mixture over the pork tenderloin.

Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Place the tenderloin in the skillet and brown on all sides, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes total.  Remove from the heat, leaving the pork in the skillet.

Stir together the brown sugar, garlic and Tabasco in a small bowl until blended.  Spread the mixture evenly over the tops of the tenderloin.

Place the skillet in the preheated oven and roast about 20 -30 minutes (depending on the size of your tenderloin) or until an instant-read themometer inserted in the center of each tenderloin registers 145˚ F. Loosely tent the skillet with foil and let stand 10 minutes before slicing and serving (After letting the pork tenderloin rest, mine was right over 150 degrees which was perfect...Don't cook your pork tenderloin to 180 like they told you to do in the old days or it will be dried out!).



I served this island spice pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes and a spinach apple salad.  What a great meal!


Source:  Found on Annie's Eats, Originally from The Gourmet Cookbook

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Chorizo & Shrimp Stuffed Poblano Peppers



Although I don't find myself watching the Food Network as much as I used to, I still search a lot on their website to find more recipes that I want to try.  I don't know why I'm constantly looking for new recipes because I already have a giant categorized spreadsheet with about 300 recipes that are in my queue to try, but I am always adding more!

This Guy Fieri recipe caught my eye because (1) I had never made stuffed peppers before, (2) I love chorizo, and (3) I liked the idea to use poblanos instead of the typical bell pepper.  These turned out very tasty, and they look really pretty too! 

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon oil
1/2 pound Mexican-style chorizo
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, minced
1 small red onion, diced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 cup short-grain rice
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper, to taste
4 large, fresh poblano chiles
1 pound shrimp, deveined, shelled, and tail removed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup Cheddar, shredded
3/4 cup Jack cheese, shredded
sour cream, salsa, and cilantro (for serving, optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place poblano chiles on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, cut top 1/4 of chile off and remove ribs and seeds.

Meanwhile, heat oil and chorizo in a large saucepan and cook for 3 minutes. Add bell pepper, jalapeno, onions and garlic. Cook until translucent, then add rice and cook until all the grains of the rice are coated with oil. Add all liquids and stir over high heat for 3 minutes, cover and reduce heat to low. Check rice for doneness after 20 minutes.

When rice has finished cooking, season to taste with salt and pepper (Taste the stuff and season it until it tastes good....you don't want this to be bland!).  Fluff the rice with a fork and stir in shrimp. Stuff chiles evenly with the rice mixture. Place all the chiles on a baking sheet and place into oven for 10 minutes.


Remove from oven, mix cheeses together and cover each pepper with cheese. Broil for 3 minutes to melt and brown the cheese.  I served these topped with a little bit of sour cream, salsa, and cilantro.

Source:  Guy Fieri

Thursday, April 7, 2011

BBQ Chicken Pineapple Quesadillas



These delicious quesadillas have been making their way on to a ton of food blogs that I read and are becoming hugely popular!  When I first saw this recipe, I immediately knew I had to add it to my weekly menu.  I was intrigued by the combination of pineapple, BBQ chicken, and cheese....and it is definitely a winning combination.  We loved this recipe, and I'm glad I made extras because now I have some waiting in the freezer for when I'm feeling too lazy to cook.

I will make just a couple of small changes for the next time I make these (and there will for sure be a next time).  First, I will cut the bbq chicken and pineapple into smaller pieces so that I can get a little more filling into each quesadilla.  Here is how big I cut mine up this time (which is actually a tad bit smaller than Pioneer Woman's chicken and pineapple, but I still want them even smaller):


Also, I chose to chop up the jalapenos into a small dice because I didn't think I would want to bite into a big jalapeno piece.....but I think by doing this I lost the jalapeno flavor so next time I will just slice the jalapeno and leave them in big circles and see what that tastes like. 

These quesadillas require some cooked chicken breasts and grilled pineapple.  You can either make these right before assembling the quesadillas or use leftovers.  What I would recommend doing is making some grilled pineapple to go with your dinner the night before and then using the leftovers in these quesadillas.

Ingredients:

8 flour tortillas
butter or EVOO to grease the pan
2 cups grilled pineapple, cut into bite sized pieces
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked (grilled or baked works well) and chopped into small chunks
3 cups monterrey jack cheese, grated
2 jalapenos, sliced
cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup of your favorite BBQ Sauce (in our house, it is Sweet Baby Ray's)
salsa, for serving (we used salsa verde because I'm obsessed with it right now)
sour cream, for serving (optional)

Directions:

Toss the cooked chicken chunks with warm BBQ sauce to coat.
Assemble quesadillas:  Sprinkle half of each tortilla with grated Monterey Jack.  Arrange chicken chunks evenly over the cheese. Add pineapple chunks and jalapeno slices. Sprinkle on cilantro. If desired, drizzle extra barbecue sauce over the top.

Preheat a skillet over medium heat and add butter or EVOO.  For each quesadilla, add to the hot pan for about a minute.  Fold over and finish cooking until both sides are browned and the cheese is melted.  Keep the quesadillas in a 200 degree oven to keep warm while you are cooking the rest.

When ready to serve, cut each quesadilla into three wedges. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

Source:  Slightly adapted from Pioneer Woman Cooks

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tilapia with Mango Salsa



If you have looked at a decent amount of recipes on my blog, you know that I don't always cook things that are super healthy because....well, I like things to taste good!  I always get really disappointed when I try a new healthy recipe that looks really good, but ends up just being okay. 

Unfortunately, as I'm getting older, my metabolism just isn't what is used to be.  I used to be able to eat whatever unhealthy food I wanted without gaining a pound.....but I'm coming to terms with the fact that I can't do that anymore.  Don't get me wrong, I will never be a health freak when it comes to eating because I love good food too much, but I am definitely learning to eat those not-so-healthy dishes in moderation.

Recently, I finished my student teaching in a 2nd grade classroom.  After I finished, I noticed that my clothes seemed a little bit looser so I got on the scale to see if I had lost any weight.....I was stunned to see that I actually lost close to 15 pounds!  Being on my feet all day and cutting back on the snack foods definitely was a good thing for me.  I decided that this was the jump start I needed to stay in shape :)  If I lose just 10 more pounds I'll be back at my end-of-high-school weight, but I'll be happy with just losing 5 more pounds and maintaining it.

That being said, I decided to seek out a few more healthy recipes.  Even though I love shellfish, I'm not much of a fish person.  I will definitely eat it, but it's not like I would ever order fish over shellfish at a seafood restaurant.  I decided to give this recipe a try, and I'm really glad I did!  We loved it, and it was super light.  I absolutely love mango, and the mango salsa paired great with the tilapia.  We added a salad, and this was definitely a pretty healthy weekday meal.  I actually made only 2 tilapia fillets, but I kept everything else in the recipe the same.

Ingredients:

4 tilapia fillets
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
salt and pepper to taste
crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Salsa:
1 mango - peeled, seeded and diced
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 avocado - peeled, pitted and diced
2 roma tomatoes - seeded and chopped
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon kosher salt (I used coarse sea salt...that's all I keep in the house these days)

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C.)

2. In a shallow baking dish, combine the olive oil, orange zest, orange juice, salt, pepper and chili flakes. Rinse the fish fillets and pat them dry. Place them into the baking dish and turn to coat with the seasonings.  Let marinate for about 15-20 minutes.

3. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, until fish can be flaked with a fork.

4. While the fish cooks, combine the mango, onion, avocado, tomatoes, lime zest and juice, jalapeno, ginger, cilantro and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a glass bowl. Stir to blend and set aside at room temperature until fish has finished cooking. Place fillets on a platter and spoon the salsa over them to serve.

Source:  Adapted from allrecipes

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Celebrating the 2010 Holidays



So I know that this post is a little bit overdue, but better late than never...right?  Do you like our beautiful Christmas tree in the above picture?  Anyway, Kevin and I spent last Christmas in Chicago with his family so this year we packed up and went to Kansas City for Christmas.  We of course drove the 8+ hour drive instead of flying so that we could bring our dog, Windy, with us :) 

I was excited because I love cooking and entertaining, and my mom let me take the lead on planning the Christmas Eve cocktail party with her side of the family.  I spent the day before prepping so that I didn't have to work too hard on Christmas Eve, and I have to say that everything turned out great, and we had a blast!  We served heavy appetizers, drinks, and dessert.  I'll post some of these recipes on the blog later on, but here's a look at what we had on the menu: 

First up - fruit salsa with cinnamon chips.....so good, and I will totally be making this again for future parties.


I also wanted a whole tray of bite sized appetizers that would be easy for people to just grab and eat.  Sorry about the bad picture quality below, but this tray featured the following appetizers:  The top plate had brie tartlets (half with a yummy grape mixture and half with apple butter), the middle plate was crabbies (love these, and they're so easy to make ahead of time), and the bottom plate was goat cheese tartlets (half with apple butter and half with marinara).


The next dish was my sister, Kristen's, appetizer:  Jalapeno Popper Dip.  I've made this one before but haven't blogged about it yet, but I will soon because it is so freaking good!  This one definitely went fast.


I wanted some kind of heavier appetizer so I decided to make some mini sandwich sliders.  I made a combination of ham and swiss sliders and roast beef and cheddar sliders.  This is another recipe that I will add to the blog soon because it is great for parties.  You might not think you need an actual recipe for these, but trust me....the sauce that they are brushed with totally make these sliders fantastic!  These are also great because you can prepare them ahead of time (which I did the night before) and just bake for about 10 minutes when you're ready to serve them.


What is a party without homemade chips and salsa?  I even took the time to fry up these tortilla chips myself because they are so much better than store bought!


Another yummy appetizer I made was loaded twice baked red potatoes.  Who can resist a mixture of potatoes, butter, sour cream, bacon, and cheese?


I think I make this spinach artichoke dip for almost every party I host because I'm obsessed with it.


Next up, hogs in a blanket!  Just like pigs in a blanket, but better :)


Of course, no cocktail party is complete without plenty of beer and wine :)


Plus some party punch for extra fun!


For dessert, I made mini eggnog cheesecakes.  I wish I had gotten a better picture of these, but oh well.  These were fantastic....I love doing individually portioned desserts like mini cheesecakes or cupcakes so that you don't have to cut out pieces for everyone.


I also made a few bite sized sweets, and my mom make some of my Grandma Jean's Italian cookies (which I somehow didn't get any pictures of).



Next up....Christmas Day!  We had a low key meal with my Grandma Nancy and Grandpa Frank.  We had our traditional Christmas Day meal, which is prime rib......yum!  Since I had done all the cooking for Christmas Eve, my mom and dad did all of the Christmas Day cooking.  We had au jus and a horseradish cream sauce to go with the prime rib.


One of our sides was twice baked potatoes (which is probably my favorite side dish of all times).


We also had Lana's Salad with the meal (which is my favorite holiday salad).


Of course you can't have a good meal without some buttery rolls to go on the side!


We also traditionally get a loaf of povitica, which is a sweet Croatian bread (really tasty, but I've never actually made one myself.....I hear it's quite a lot of work).


Afterwards, we spent a little time by the piano for a family sing-along :)  My dad's side of the family is very musically gifted (unfortunately, I didn't inherit the gift....).  My Grandpa can play just about every instrument I can think of (I even volunteered him to play the banjo in one of my elementary school musicals when I was a kid), and he is a fantastic guitar player.  He is well-known for playing the steel guitar, and he has even played at the Grand Ole Opry.....so neat!

My dad has always been able to play the piano by ear.  When we get him and my Grandpa to play together, it's always a lot of fun!  I have a short video clip of them playing a German song together that I wanted to share :)  PS....for the record, there is someone singing in the background of the video that doesn't quite know the words, but it is NOT me haha!

video

For New Year's Eve, we had king crab legs and twice baked potatoes.  If I had to pick a last meal, it would for sure be king crab legs!  When Kevin and I eat it for dinner, I always buy at least 2 pounds, but I usually buy 3 pounds to be safe because both of us love it so much.  SOOOOO GOOD!


We definitely had a great Christmas/New Years in 2010, and I'm looking forward to the next holiday season.  We will be in Chicago for Christmas Eve next year for a fun holiday celebration with Kevin's family, and then we're heading to Costa Rica from Christmas Day to New Years Day with my side of the family (thanks Mom and Dad)!  I'm super pumped about it :)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thai Mussels



If you love mussels like I do, you need to try this recipe now!  I love making mussels mariniere, but this time I wanted to find a recipe with a more unique flavor.  I found a recipe for thai mussels on allrecipes so I decided to give it a shot.  I had never cooked with thai red curry paste before so I was crossing my fingers that we would actually like the flavor of this....and we loved it!  Next time I buy mussels, I'm going to use this recipe again because I've been craving it for awhile.

When Kevin and I have mussels for a main course, I usually try to buy about 2 pounds of mussels....but since my grocery store still wasn't selling mussels, I had 2 options:  1 - Buy 2 pounds of mussels from Whole Foods for about $12....or 2 - Buy a 5 pound bag of mussels from Costco for around $10.  Well, I decided to go with the Costco option so we had way more mussels than we could eat, but we certainly ate as much as we could!  The recipe calls for 5 pounds, but you can definitely cut it down.  I would probably just cut the mussels down and keep the broth the same so that you have a ton of dipping sauce to soak up with some bread.

Ingredients:

5 pounds fresh mussels, scrubbed and debearded (rinse the mussels to clean, but don't soak in water or they might die before you cook them....I learned this the hard way awhile ago)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (use real limes - much better than bottled juice!)
1 (13.5 ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
1/3 cup dry white wine (I use savignon blanc, but use what you have on hand)
1 1/2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste (I probably used about 2 tablespoons)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 cups chopped fresh cilantro (1 used 1 small bunch....about a cup or a cup and a half)
loaf of crusty bread for dipping :)

Directions:

1. In a large stock pot, combine the lime juice, coconut milk, wine, curry paste, garlic, fish sauce and sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar and curry paste and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 2 minutes then add mussels. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until mussels are opened, 5 to 8 minutes.

2. Remove from the heat and discard any unopened mussels. Pour mussels and liquid into a serving dish and toss with cilantro.

Source:  Allrecipes

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Trip to Remember!



Back at the beginning of December, my mom, my sister, and I spent a week in Orlando visiting Disney World and Universal Orlando.  Now I know that there's a lot of people out there who don't see a trip to Orlando to visit themeparks as a good adults-only vacation (like my husband who absolutely refuses to go to Disney World before we have kids to bring), but I have always been obsessed with Disney World, and I was also super pumped to visit Universal's Islands of Adventure because of their new Harry Potter section (Harry Potter is another obsession of mine).

Just to warn you, this post will have nothing to do with my cooking, but it will have some food related stuff in it because I have some pictures of a few of my favorite things that we ate while we were there.  I'm already ready to go back to Orlando for another visit, but unfortunately I'm going to have to wait awhile for that.

With all of my Disney and Harry Potter gear packed, I flew to Orlando on the morning of December 4th.  If you are not familiar with the crowd levels at Disney, we went at a great time because December is relatively uncrowded until schools let out for winter break.  Since I'm now a teacher and will have to plan my vacations around when school is out, this trip was probably the last time I will visit Orlando when the ride lines are pretty short....but oh well. 

We stayed at the Boardwalk Resort which was not only a very nice hotel, but also has a perfect location because you can walk to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  Here's a picture of my mom and me standing out on our huge balcony before heading to the parks (and in case you're wondering - yes, we are wearing matching shirts in different colors haha):



We decided to grab some lunch @ the Boardwalk Bakery before walking to Hollywood Studios.  We were on the Disney Dining plan so we got dessert with every meal!   I ended up ordering a cheesecake brownie because well, it looked pretty freaking awesome (and it was...you can never go wrong with something that is part cheesecake):


I won't give the full play by play of what we did each day, but I will write about a couple of my favorite things....at Hollywood Studios, I have to say that Rockin' Rollercoaster is for sure my favorite ride because of the initial launch and the music.  I think I could ride it 20 times in a row and not get sick of it!


I rode Toy Story Mania for the first time ever, and it is definitely a great new addition to the park.  It is insanely popular, and I think that first afternoon the stand-by wait was almost 2 hours (which is crazy, and I would never wait that long in line for ANY ride....even Harry Potter)!  Luckily, we had all volunteered for Disney's Give a Day Get a Day program so we were able to get instant fast passes for a bunch of rides, including Toy Story Mania.  Here's the shot I got of my mom and sister:



That night, we saw Fantasmic! which is my favorite park closing show at Disney :)  The next morning, we were up bright and early to make the 8am rope drop at the Magic Kingdom!  If there is one tip I could give to anybody visiting Disney World, it would be to wake up early and be at the parks by rope drop (Disney lingo for when the park first opens for the day).  Even though you might think it sucks to wake up so early, you will be able to ride so many rides with little to no wait.  On the morning we were there, it was completely deserted (I think because Disney changed the opening time to 8am instead of 9am just a few weeks earlier so a lot of people didn't realize Magic Kingdom was open before 9am).  It was amazing because we rode everything we wanted to multiple times that morning.


Magic Kingdom has so many great rides, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would be Splash Mountain.  It is just so Disneyish...I just love it!  Since there was nobody around when we rode it the first time I was even able to sing along throughout the whole ride (yes I am a total Disney dork.....I'll admit I even wore a fanny pack....totally embarrassing but so much easier to carry than a purse or a backpack and I'll never see anyone there again).


For dinner that night, we headed to World Showcase in Epcot.  We ate at Le Cellier, which is a steakhouse in Canada.  I started off with this fun looking martini:



I enjoyed eating my filet mignon with cream cheese mashed potatoes before ordering this chocolate "moose" for dessert:



The next morning, we were at Animal Kingdom by 8am for extra magic hours.  We rode the safari first and saw a ton of different animals.  It was fun, but on that morning a cold front hit Orlando, and it was seriously 35 degrees and freezing!



We saw the Festival of the Lion King show, which in my opinion is the best themepark show there is.  We also saw Finding Nemo:  The Musical, which is really good too.


Before heading to the Magic Kindom that night for evening extra magic hours, we ate at O'Hana, which is at the Polynesian Resort.  They serve the meals family style there, and you get coconut bread, a salad, potstickers, Asian chicken wings, sesame noodles, and some meat and shrimp on skewers, but the real star of the meal here is the dessert....bananas foster bread pudding.....amazing!  I really want to recreate this dessert at home someday...



The next morning, we actually slept in (well, until around 9am).  We spent a little bit of time getting some rides in at Hollywood Studios before heading to Epcot for the rest of the day.  That night, we ate dinner at the relatively new restaurant in Italy called Via Napoli, which specializes in wood fired pizzas.  Here are the ovens where the pizzas are cooked:


We tried a couple of different pizzas, but my hands-down favorite was the wood-fired pizza with fontina cheese, melon, and prosciutto (this is another thing I want to try and recreate at home sometime).



As full as I was after the pizza, I saved room for dessert.  I ordered the zeppole which are fried ricotta fritters with chocolate sauce for dipping.....I figure why not go all out since I was walking about 10 miles every day!



That next morning was our last day at Disney, and we arrived early at Epcot for rope drop.  We were at the front of the crowd walking to Soarin' and we got on the first cycle of the ride :)  Soarin' is definitely my favorite ride and Epcot (and usually the ride with the longest wait so it is best to do this one early or grab a fastpass for later). 

After Soarin' we did a bunch more rides in Future World including Test Track and Mission Space.  A lot of people got sick from Mission Space right when it first opened so they have 2 versions of the ride - the original version plus a more tame version that doesn't spin.  My mom and I had some time to kill while we were waiting for Kristen to finish riding the more tame version (because she gets motion sickness and we didn't want want to risk it), so we tried on a few hats in the gift shop haha:


After awhile, we headed into World Showcase for lunch.  We couldn't leave Disney without having a beer and brat in Germany so that was where we stopped first.



I had a snack credit to use up before we left Disney, so I got a chocolate and caramel covered strawberry at the new caramel shop in Germany.



After one last ride on Spaceship Earth and Soarin' we headed back to the Boardwalk to meet my dad and then head over to Universal.  We stayed at the Royal Pacific Resort, which I really liked (but if you're wanting to stay on-site at Universal, all three of their hotels are very nice).  PS - wearing heavy winter coats in Florida is kind of a bummer, but what can I say....it was cold!



Since we were staying onsite, we got early access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which I fully intended to take advantage of!  The next morning, we woke up early (and I put on one of my favorite Harry Potter t-shirts) and were at the gates of Islands of Adventure before 8am.  When the gates opened, we went straight to Ollivander's for the wand show since the lines get insane later in the day.

In this show, the shopkeeper selects just one person to get fitted for his or her wand.  Everybody can then purchase their own wands in the connecting shop after the show.  Supposedly there is sometimes some drama because lots of moms get pissed when their kid doesn't get picked.  We were in the first show of the day, and the shopkeeper picked the biggest Harry Potter fan in the room....ME! 

Sorry kids, I didn't feel bad when I got picked over you because I am such a huge fan and being picked made my whole trip!  The whole reason why we decided to come to Orlando was pretty much because I desperately wanted to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter so we decided to do a Disney/Orlando combo trip.  I have read every book dozens of times and seen the movies so many times that Kevin can't stand watching them with me anymore because I can't help but say the lines outloud during the whole movie. 

What I am saying is yes - I was totally psyched when I saw the shopkeeper come down the stairs and make eye contact with me because I knew I was getting picked.....I even got a little teary eyed like I was a teenage girl meeting Robert Pattinson or something.....but I pulled it together and got fitted for my wand.  When I found the right wand, the whole shop lit up and started playing the Harry Potter music that plays in the first movie when Harry gets his wand.....pretty freaking awesome!


Okay so after that life-changing experience (haha just kidding), we headed to the Hogwarts castle to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.



This ride was completely amazing.....the best ride I have ever been on at any themepark.  It was so great for me as a Harry Potter fan, but even non Harry Potter fans will enjoy this ride.  If you're interested in reading a play-by-play description of this ride, here is a good link.  Some advice - after seeing all the cool elements of Hogwarts in the regular queue once, try out the single rider line for shorter waits......I rode Forbidden Journey probably 15 times in the three days I was there because of this.  Some other advice - don't bring any bags into the themepark (except a fanny pack, haha) because you will have to wait in a line to put bags in a locker which is a huge pain and wastes time.

We explored the rest of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter by riding the other two rides (re-themed rides that were already there before....fun, but nothing special) and shopping in each of the shops (totally great theming!).  After that, we stopped at the Three Broomsticks for lunch.  Food was pretty good (but not great), and the theming is awesome.  If you want a beer, try the Hogs Head Brew....it is pretty tasty and you can get it at either the Three Broomsticks or at the Hogs Head Pub (shorter line).  You can also get butterbeer (non-alcholic...boo) at either place or at the Butterbeer cart outside.




Being the huge Harry Potter fan that I am, I really wanted to love butterbeer....but I didn't....it was just too sweet tasting for me.  I did like the frozen version better, but it was so cold outside when I had it that I couldn't enjoy a frozen drink.  I will try the frozen version again next time I'm there when it's warm outside.

Over the next couple of days, we explored the other stuff at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, and I came back to re-visit the Wizarding World each day too.  The merchandise in the stores is great, and I spend a little more money buying stuff than I meant too (not gonna lie....I did buy some Gryffindor robes to wear as a Halloween costume next year haha).  There are two mini shows that they perform every half hour (the Hogwarts frog choir and the Triwizard show) that I enjoyed watching.  Overall, I thought the theming of the whole area was fantastic....Universal did a great job creating the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Sorry for the crazy long trip report, but we just packed so much into a week!  This was a great trip, and I can't wait to go back sometime :)