Saturday, January 29, 2011

Taco-Stuffed Shells

I had never used the jumbo pasta shells, and when I saw this recipe, I knew that it was time to try them. These mini tacos were delicious and fun to eat, which makes them that much better! And I have been thinking of so many yummy fillings to spoon into these little shells, the possibilities are endless!

These taco-stuffed shells were good, but my husband and I thought that the meat lacked some flavor. I posted the original recipe below so that you can have it, but next time I make something like this, I will just cook the meat how we usually do for tacos; with taco seasoning and taco sauce. I think that the flavor may have also been somewhat dull because I substituted ground turkey for the ground beef, and the turkey needs more help to have flavor than beef does. But these are so much fun to make (and eat), so give them a try with your favorite taco fillings!

Taco-Stuffed Shells (Print)
from Fast-Fix One-Dish Meals
Prep: 40 minutes / Bake: 30 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

18 jumbo shell macaroni (about half of a 12-ounce box)
1 pound ground beef or turkey
3 ounces cream cheese (I used neufchatel)
1 teaspoon chili powder
16 ounces salsa
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook shells according to package directions. Drain shells and rinse with cold water, draining well after rinsing.

2. While pasta is cooking, brown meat in a skillet and drain grease as needed. Stir in cream cheese and chili powder (or your usual taco seasonings). Remove from heat.

3. Spread about 1/2 cup salsa in the bottom of a 2-quart rectangular baking dish or 9x13 baking dish (it will be thin, add more if you like). Spoon about 2 tablespoons of meat into each shell and place in baking dish. Top shells with remaining salsa.

4. Bake, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes more or until heated through. Serve with your favorite taco toppings.

My Review

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bourbon Chicken

I have made several variations of the asian-sauce with chicken and rice combination; but none of them have been this good.

Let me put it this way: my husband has declared this to be his favorite meal that I have made for him. He wants me to make it for our friends when they come to dinner. He just said today that he was craving this dish and didn't want to wait for our guests (which is next weekend). I think it is safe to say that this ranks right up there with taco ring.

This recipe is from Melanie, at My Kitchen Cafe. She has an amazing blog and all of her recipes have turned out delicious. This recipe is fantastic and it will definitely not disappoint you! As Melanie said, it is perfectly sweet with a little bit of zing. Served over brown (or white rice or fried rice or lettuce wraps), you can't go wrong.

Bourbon Chicken (Print)
from My Kitchen Cafe
Prep: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

1 to 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast* (see review)
4 tablespoons canola oil
cornstarch (optional)
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup apple juice
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

1. Cut chicken into 1-inch cubes. Heat oil in a large skillet. Dust chicken with cornstarch, if desired. Fry in oil until lightly browned. Watch out for splattering oil! I kept the lid on as much as possible. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Wipe out any excess oil from the skillet.

2. In a small mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Mix well and pour into skillet. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken to the skillet. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, or until sauce is somewhat thickened.

My Review

Friday, January 21, 2011

Shepherd's Pie

This is one of those good ol' casserole recipes that never fails. A meal all-in-one, with an extra casserole in the freezer, ready for a busy weeknight. Besides, you can't go wrong with anything that involves mashed potatoes. Just sayin'.

This recipe calls for prepared mashed potatoes. No worries though, I made mine while the meat was cooking and it was all put together in no time. Of course, instant mashed potatoes are an option, but real ones are oh so much better! As a side note, the original recipe was made in an oval baker that is no longer available from Pampered Chef, and I am unsure of it's size. I made my casserole in two 8 x 8 pans and tucked one away in the freezer. You could also use a 9 x 13. Using two 8 x 8 pans or a 9 x 13 results in a somewhat 'thin' casserole, so if you want something thicker, you may try using just one 9 x 9 inch pan. As you can see, this dish is very versatile and forgiving, so don't be afraid to give it a try!

Shepherd's Pie (Print)
from Pampered Chef
Prep: 30 minutes / Bake: 20-30 minutes (depending on thickness)
Yield: 6-8 servings

1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, pressed or minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cups frozen vegetables (I used frozen peas, frozen corn, and fresh carrots)
12 ounces beef gravy
2-4 cups mashed potatoes (Original recipe says 2...but I need more than that!)
4 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a skillet, cook ground meat, onion, and garlic. Drain as needed. Meanwhile, begin to boil the potatoes and prepare as you desire.

2. Add salt, thyme, pepper, vegetables, and gravy. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 mintues, stirring frequently.

3. Spoon into desired baking dish. (Two 8 x 8 pans, one 9 x 13 pan, or one 9 x 9 pan). Top with mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with cheese.

4. Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the thickness, until heated through.

Nutrition Facts (based on 8 servings): 305 calories, 16 g fat, 650 mg sodium, 3 g fiber

My Review

Monday, January 17, 2011

Panera Bread Broccoli Cheese Soup

You'll have to excuse the pictures this time, as we had this for dinner and the lighting wasn't very good. I suppose maybe I could edit the pictures but I've never done that. Alas, don't be deterred, this soup is delicious! If you have ever eaten at Panera, you know that their soups are wonderful. This imitation version takes the cake and you won't be disappointed!

The first time we (my husband and I) made this soup, we followed the directions and pureed all of the soup in our blender. Well, let me just say that our blender is practically a maniac and we didn't know it. 3 pulses and we were left with broccoli cheese goop. Literally. I suppose it's a good thing that our blender works well, but we underestimated it's power. Needless to say, this time we made some changes to avoid the unappealing goop, which I have added in the recipe below. Enjoy!

**See that yummy bread there? It's a new french bread recipe I tried that I will be sharing with you soon! To see my first french bread post, click here.

Broccoli Cheese Soup (Print)
adapted from America's Most Wanted Recipes
Prep: 60 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon canola oil
1/3 to 2/3 cup onion, chopped
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups half-and-half
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
8 ounces broccoli, coarsely chopped (I used 2 bunches)
1 cup shredded carrot
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Heat the oil in a small skillet. Cook the onion in the skillet on medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until translucent. Set aside.

2. In a 4-quart pot, whisk the butter and flour together. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 4 minutes.

3. Slowly add the half-and-half; continue whisking. Add 1-1/2 cups of the chicken broth, whisking constantly. Simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, puree the onion and carrot in a blender with the remaining chicken broth.

4. Add the broccoli, and pureed onion and carrots to the pot. Cook, uncovered, over low heat until broccoli is tender, about 20 minutes.

5. Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Pour the soup in batches into a blender and puree. This is what we changed. We pureed the onion and carrot initially to avoid large chunks of onion. At this step (6), we used a ladle to take out about half of the broccoli and pureed just that. That way, there were still some broccoli chunks for us to enjoy and we didn't end up with goop like last time. You can do this however you would like.

7. Return the pureed portion to the pot and place over low heat. Add the grated cheese and stir until melted. Stir in the nutmeg and serve.

My Review

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cast Iron Seared Steak: The Best and Most Simple Way to Enjoy a Great Steak

As a Christmas present, I received the first season of Good Eats, with Alton Brown. I have since become a huge fan. This show is entertaining; Alton never ceases to make you laugh with his quirkiness. And it's different from all the other cooking shows. This isn't your typical half-hour segment where someone makes a recipe that comes out perfect and then it's over. No, this cooking show teaches you about food, cookware, origins and many other tidbits of information that will make you think, "Wow, I never knew that!" For example, did you know that the vanilla bean comes from orchids?! Weird, I know.

But back to my steak. In this episode, Alton teaches you about all the different cuts of beef, how to choose a good piece of meat, and the most delicious way to cook a steak. Which is what this post is all about! Here's the process: Hot cast iron skillet, meat seasoned with kosher salt, black pepper, and canola oil. Sear the steak in the skillet, then finish it off in the oven. And that's all! No fancy marinades, seasonings, or sauces. This steak is good all by itself. It's tender, juicy, full of flavor, and as my husband said, "just as good as a restaurant's." Go ahead, give it a try. And check out some Good Eats episodes while you're at it!

Cast Iron Seared Steak (Print)
from Good Eats
Prep: 5 minutes / Cook: 5 minutes
Note: If you want the full effect, watch the clip here. It's great information!

Kosher salt
Black pepper
Canola oil

1. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Place the cast iron skillet in the oven to warm up.

2. Season the steak with a good amount of salt and pepper. Lighlty coat both sides with canola oil.

3. Take the pan out of the oven and place it on the stove on high heat. Put the steak in the pan and do not touch it for 30 seconds. Turn it over for another 30 seconds on the other side.

4. Place the pan in the oven for 2 minutes. Flip the steak and cook for another 2 minutes. The length of time can vary, based on the thickness of your steak and the level of doneness you desire. See the information below for temperature ranges.

5. Take the steak out of the oven and let it rest for 3 minutes to allow the juice to soak into the meat. Lightly cover with foil and elevate the steak on a bowl to prevent any drippings from making the crispy crust turn soggy.

6. Cut the steak and enjoy!

Temperature Guide
Rare: 120-130 degrees
Medium Rare: 130-145 degrees
Medium: 145-155 degrees
Well: 155 + degrees

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Apple-Stuffed Baked Fish

I have a confession to make. I used to say I hated fish or seafood of any kind. I wouldn't even consider eating fish, but recently I have been trying to have it more often. I'm always in search of good fish recipes, and this one was right up that alley. I admit that I still get the heebie geebies when handling fish, but I think that for the most part, I will say I like seafood. But don't expect me to eat anything with a nasty hard shell like lobster or crab. Things that have eyes that look at me. I won't even go near those!

But back to this recipe. It is out of one of my favorite cookbooks, The Old Farmer's Everyday Cookbook Almanac, and it won first prize in the 2003 "apples" recipe contest. The filling is sweet and savory, with a hint of tartness from the apples mingled with a touch of thyme; it's definitely a winner. It has an elegant presentation and is simple to make. I'm sure this dish could be dressed up on a bed of shredded carrots or rice and it would look even prettier. The one thing I would change is reduce the green onion. I think my onions were on the strong side, but there was too much for my taste. I left the original measurements in the recipe below, so you can decide for yourself. See my review for full details. Enjoy!

Apple-Stuffed Baked Fish (Print)
from The Old Farmer's Everyday Cookbook Almanac
Prep: 20 minutes / Bake: 10-15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

1 cup peeled, cored, and grated Golden Delicious apple
1/2 cup peeled and grated carrot
1/2 cup minced green onion
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme

4 white fish fillets (haddock, cod, or other), 4-5 ounces each (I used cod)
1/2 cup chicken broth or water

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a small roasting pan. (I used a cast iron dutch oven).

2. For stuffing: Prepare the apples, carrots, and onion as directed. Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.

3. For fish: Rinse the fillets and pat dry with paper towels. Spread the stuffing over the fillets and carefully roll up lengthwise. (Mine ended up just being folded). Secure with toothpicks. Place fish in pan, pour broth or water over fish. Cover with lid or aluminum foil. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

My Review