Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pinch Hitting: Buffalo Chicken Dip

When Joe first met our friend Doug, it was love at first sight. Aside from their mutual enjoyment of baseball, comic books and Wii, Joe was smitten with the Buffalo Chicken Dip that Doug made for our first get together with he and his wife Christina. Joe loved it so much, in fact, that poor Doug now has to make the dip every time he knows he's going to see Joe. We were supposed to get together with Doug and Christina for dinner and Wii on Saturday night, but poor Christina got sick and had to cancel. Upon hearing that our plans were cancelled, Joe (after inquiring about Christina's health, of course...) promptly cried, "No dip?!?!" Followed by "Well, Doug's not sick. He could come over here!" In order to ease the pain of Joe's Doug-less night, I offered to make buffalo chicken dip for him myself. I hit Google and searched for a recipe that sounded about right, and settled on this one from Frank's RedHot. This dip is super easy to put together and is spicy and creamy - pure heaven, in Joe's opinion. He assured me that it was just as good as Doug's dip, but he may have been just sparing my feelings. Feel better Christina - Joe misses your husband! :)

Buffalo Chicken Dip

8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup blue cheese or ranch salad dressing
1/2 cup any flavor hot sauce
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese or shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cans (9.75 oz. each) Premium Chunk Chicken Breast in Water, drained

Heat oven to 350°F. Place cream cheese into deep baking dish. Stir until smooth. Mix in salad dressing, hot sauce and cheese. Stir in chicken. Bake 20 min. or until mixture is heated through; stir. Garnish as desired. Serve with crackers or vegetables.

Microwave Directions: Prepare as above. Place in microwave-safe dish. Microwave, uncovered, on HIGH 5 min. until hot, stirring halfway through cooking.

Slow Cooker Method: Combine ingredients as directed above. Place mixture into small slow cooker. Cover pot. Heat on HIGH setting for 1 1/2 hours until hot and bubbly or on LOW setting for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Stir.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Happy Birthday Anne! (and piggy cookies!)

My mother-in-law's birthday is today, and what's a birthday without a cake? I asked her what type she'd like and she just said "something chocolate." Easy enough! I had a bunch of leftover Halloween candy still in my pantry so I decided to utilize that as well. Peanut butter cups...mmmm. To avoid chocolate overload (as if there was such a thing - ha!) I decided to fill the cake layers with our favorite peanut butter frosting. Seriously, this stuff is beyond amazing! I made the cake from a box (I've had some bad luck with cakes from scratch) and stuffed the layers with the peanut butter frosting and chopped up peanut butter cups.

I spread some triple chocolate frosting (courtesy of Betty Crocker) on the top and added more peanut butter cups. The result? Rich, peanut buttery and delicious!

Happy birthday, Anne!

On another note, Joe came home from school yesterday with some cookies that some of his students had made in their home ec class. Aren't they the cutest things?!?

Birthday Mac and Cheese

My mother-in-law Anne's birthday is today so on Monday evening we had the family over to celebrate. I made thyme-coated pork loin and a salad, my brother-in-law John's girlfriend Rebecca made corn muffins and John and Rebecca made Classic Macaroni and Cheese from Cook's Illustrated. They had made this recipe before and raved about it, so I asked them to recreate it for dinner.

John and Rebecca adding the cheese....mmmm.

This macaroni and cheese was fantastic! It was gooey and creamy with just the right amount of flavor. A definite hit!

Classic Macaroni and Cheese

Bread Crumb Topping:
6 slices white sandwich bread (good-quality, about 6 ounces), torn into rough pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into 6 pieces

Pasta and Cheese:
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
5 cups milk
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese , shredded (2 cups)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese , shredded (2 cups)
1 teaspoon salt

For the bread crumbs: Pulse bread and butter in food processor until crumbs are no larger than 1/8 inch, ten to fifteen 1-second pulses. Set aside.

For the pasta and cheese: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat broiler. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is tender. Drain pasta and set aside in colander.

In now-empty Dutch oven, heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour, mustard, and cayenne (if using) and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken). Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in cheeses and 1 teaspoon salt until cheeses are fully melted. Add pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.

Transfer mixture to broiler-safe 9-by 13-inch baking dish and sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs. Broil until crumbs are deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes, rotating pan if necessary for even browning. Cool about 5 minutes, then serve.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Freaking Good" Texas Chicken Quesadillas

A few weeks ago when my friends and I got together for Mexican themed lunch, Jenn made these awesome quesadillas. I'm not a big fan of traditional Mexican food, so in my book these were perfect. I ate way more than my fair share of them during lunch and immediately put them on my menu for dinner this week. Were they a good as I remember? Hell yes! These things are amazing. I think it's the caramelized onion/honey mixture that really makes them - so tangy and sweet. Joe and I were drooling over these while the chicken was still browning in the pan, and all that anticipation was well deserved. These rock - plain and simple. Between just about every bite Joe announced, "These are freaking good!" And they are. I followed the recipe exactly and baked them in the oven since I don't have a quesadilla maker. But these make me want to buy one. Seriously. But for now, I'll just settle for making them again very, very soon!

Texas Chicken Quesadillas

2 TBSP of oil
1-1/2 onions (vidalia is preferred) sliced into rings
1 TBSP honey
2 chicken breasts, diced
1/2 cup BBQ sauce
1 Cup shredded Mexican cheese
8 ten inch flour tortillas

Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a pan over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until they begin to caramelize. Mix in the honey and stir until it is golden brown. Remove and set aside.Place the remaining oil in the pan and add the chicken. Cook through over a medium high heat. Stir in the BBQ sauce to evenly coat the chicken.Place the chicken, onions and cheese onto a tortilla, top with the other tortilla and cook in your quesadilla maker about 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can cook them in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Seriously...LOOK at that filling!!! Mmmmm.....

Creamy Cajun Shrimp Linguine

Last week frozen shrimp was on sale at the grocery store so I snagged a bag. My favorite way to enjoy shrimp is with pasta, and I'm always looking for new recipes to try. I saw this one on my friend Colleen's blog and thought it looked perfect. Not only was this pasta delicious but it was very easy to make. I followed Colleen's modifications - I used fat free half and half and roasted red peppers, plus I chose turkey bacon instead of regular. I left out the mushrooms because Joe doesn't like them and I wasn't really in the mood for them.

I found that I really didn't have much sauce after I'd followed the recipe, so I added about another 1/4 cup of half and half and an extra shake of Cajun seasoning. I still would have liked it a little saucier, but it was delicious nonetheless. And Joe preferred it the way it was so it ended up working out just fine. This pasta is creamy and delicious, with just the right amount of kick. I hope shrimp is on sale again soon!

Creamy Cajun Shrimp Linguine

8 ounces uncooked linguine
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
about 6 slices bacon or turkey bacon, cooked and chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 (8 ounce) package presliced mushrooms (I omitted)
7 ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and sliced or 1 large red pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Bring medium pot of water to boil. Add linguine and cook 5 minutes. Add shrimp to pot and cook 3 more minutes. Drain and keep warm.Melt butter in large skillet. Add roasted red peppers and mushrooms; saute 4 minutes or until moisture evaporates. Add flour, seasoning, and salt to pan; saute 30 seconds. Stir in half-and-half; cook one minute or more until sauce thickens, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add pasta mixture, bacon, and parsley to pan; stirring to combine.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Chicken Enchiliada Soup

I've really been enjoying making soup for dinner recently, so I was excited to find this recipe on Deborah's blog. And I was extra excited to see that it used the crock pot - I do love my crock pot! I lessened my work even more by buying a package of Perdue southwestern pre-cooked chicken strips, so all I had to do when I got home from work was toss the chicken into the soup to heat up - no stove top cooking at all! I left out the 2 cups of cheese that the original recipe called for because without it this is a pretty healthy soup! I sprinkled a little cheese on top and it was perfect. (And okay I MAY have served this with cheese quesadillas, but at least the soup is low fat...) I loved this soup! It is incredibly flavorful and hearty and just plain good. I'm looking forward to having the leftovers for lunch today!

Chicken Enchilada Soup

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 10-ounce package frozen whole kernel corn
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped yellow, green, or red bell pepper
1 10-ounce can enchilada sauce
1 10.75-ounce can condensed cream of chicken soup
2 cups milk (I used skim)
1 cup shredded Pepperjack cheese (4 ounces)
4 chicken breasts

In a 3 1/2 to 5 quart slow cooker, combine drained beans, drained tomatoes, corn, onion, and bell pepper. In a large bowl, whisk together enchilada sauce and soup. Gradually whisk in milk until smooth. Pour sauce mixture over ingredients in cooker.Cover; cook on low heat for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours. Cut chicken into bite sized cubes. Cook over medium heat until cooked all the way through. Add into soup. Can be topped with avocado, sour cream, or crushed tortilla chips. Sprinkle a little cheese on top before serving.

Crispy Chicken Strips

This week John's coworker made him a humongous pan of her delicious macaroni and cheese and John was kind enough to share some of it with Joe and I. I wanted to use the mac and cheese as a side dish, so I needed a chicken recipe that would be a good accompaniment. Everyone knows that fried chicken goes well with mac and cheese, but I just do not like fried chicken, plus I have never fried anything in my life - all that oil? No way! So I searched some of my favorite food blogs and found this recipe of Stephanie's for crispy chicken strips. I made just a few changes - I used regular breadcrumbs in place of panko, egg beaters in place of eggs and Dijon mustard in place of honey, as Joe does not like his dinner foods sweet.

These chicken strips were great! Nice and juicy with a delicious crispy crust. I dipped mine in ketchup ;) They were a great match for the gooey mac and cheese and will definitely be making an appearance in my kitchen again! Now I just need more of that mac and cheese! John........?

Crispy Chicken Strips

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1 cup Egg Beaters
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
8 ounces Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a baking pan with aluminum foil to make clean-up quick and easy.Combine flour, onion powder and paprika in a shallow dish. In a second shallow dish, beat 2 eggs, then add honey and stir to combine. In a third shallow dish, add the panko bread crumbs and Italian seasoning, if using it). Dip the chicken strips first, in the flour mixture, then the eggs and finally in the panko bread crumbs. Make sure to press the crumbs into the chicken in order to ensure they adhere to the chicken.Please all chicken strips on prepared baking pan, then spray each strip with cooking spray. Bake for about 20 minutes or until done.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mexican Chocolate Crunch Brownies

Last December I got together with my wonderful friends Lauren, Sarah, Jenn and Colleen for a potluck lunch. We had so much fun that we decided to do it again this past Saturday. We chose Mexican for our lunch theme and I was put in charge of dessert. I have to admit I was at a bit of a loss, as there aren't a ton of Mexican desserts to choose from. I didn't want anything too heavy, as Mexican food is so heavy, and I also didn't want anything super complicated. I remembered that Anna of Cookie Madness had posted several Mexican cookies and brownies on her blog, so I ran over there for inspiration. It was there that I found this recipe for Mexican Chocolate Crunch Brownies.

They sounded yummy, plus I had all the ingredients on hand except for the cereal, so they were also convenient. These came together in no time and have a wonderful chocolate/cinnamon aroma. I have to admit, I wasn't sure what I thought of these at first. The crunchy cereal base kind of threw me off, but the more I tasted, the more they grew on me. The girls seemed to like them a bit more than I did, so they couldn't have been too bad. I loved the addition of cinnamon to the brownie batter and the cinnamon sugar topping. They were a nice ending to our wonderful Mexican feast!

As for that feast, we started off with awesome barbecue chicken quesadillas made by Jenn and delicious dip and guacamole from Colleen. For our main course, Lauren made us a Mexican taco bake and Sarah made Mexican rice. Everything was delicious! (I believe Sarah is going to post all the food from our lunch, so check out her blog for all the mouth-watering pics!) Thanks to Jenn for hosting and I can't wait to do it again!

Mexican Chocolate Crunch Brownies

1box (12.8 oz) Cinnamon Toast Crunch® cereal (about 8 cups)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 box (19.5 oz) fudge brownie mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar (from 3.62-oz jar)*

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 13x9-inch pan with cooking spray. Place cereal in food processor bowl with metal blade (crush cereal in 2 batches if necessary). Cover; process until finely crushed (about 4 cups). Or place cereal in large resealable food-storage plastic bag; crush with rolling pin. (I did it in a bowl with a potato masher!) In large bowl, stir butter and corn syrup until well blended. Add crushed cereal; mix thoroughly. Press evenly in pan.

In large bowl, make brownie mix as directed on box, using oil, water and eggs and adding cinnamon. Stir in 2/3 cup of the chocolate chips. Pour brownie batter over cereal mixture. Sprinkle remaining 2/3 cup chocolate chips evenly over batter.
Bake 20 minutes. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar evenly over brownies. Bake 14 to 18 minutes longer or until brownies are set when lightly touched in center. Cool 10 minutes; loosen edges but do not cut. Cool completely, about 2 hours. For brownies, cut into 6 rows by 4 rows.

*Three tablespoons sugar mixed with 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon can be substituted for the cinnamon sugar.