Tasty Tuesday: Pumpkin Cheesecake

pumpkincheesecake

The perfect dessert for fall. So much better than plain cheesecake or plain pumpkin pie. And super easy to make. I make this almost every Thanksgiving. My family always requests it now. The first time I ever met Robbie’s family was for Thanksgiving a few years ago, and I made this the day before traveling to north Alabama. It made the trip just fine, and his whole family thought I was amazing. They had never heard of pumpkin cheesecake before. His granddad didn’t talk the entire time I was there, except to say my cheesecake was really good. ūüôā

Pumpkin Cheesecake

16 oz Cream cheese; softened
16 oz Pumpkin puree
5 Eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Frangelico liqueur (optional)
3/4 tsp Cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp Ginger, ground
1/4 tsp Nutmeg, ground
1/8 tsp Cloves, ground
1 tsp Vanilla extract

Beat everything together. Pour into graham cracker pie crust. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45-50 minutes.

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Bruschetta

bruschetta

Sometimes you follow recipes to make things and there’s just¬†a little something wrong.¬†A little something missing. I guess I always used to think that following a recipe would ensure that at least I wouldn’t be the one to blame if something was a little off. But lately I’ve had so many experiences with recipes being not that great that I’ve started just trying to make up everything as I go. For the most part. Unless it’s something I have no clue about, like bread. The last time I made bruschetta, I followed a recipe and it came out all wrong. Didn’t taste quite like I wanted. The bread was a little too soggy. And so on. So last night I decided to use up half a loaf of french bread left over from last weekend’s birthday festivities. I totally made it up as I went along, and this time it came out excellent! So I figured I should probably document that, at least for me in case I want to make it again, as much for the two people who read this blog.

Bruschetta

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice up some french bread and place slices on a baking sheet. Drizzle the slices with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle them with garlic salt and Kosher salt. Then sprinkle with some shredded colby jack cheese. I also added some very fine crumbles of feta cheese. On top of that, pile up some finely chopped tomato. Pop it in the oven for about 15 minutes. Perfecto! Just long enough and hot enough to get warm and melty.

Tasty Tuesday: Truffle Oven Fries with Pesto Dip

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Okay people, don’t freak out about the fancy-schmancy title of this recipe. Today we are going to take the gourmet out of gourmet cooking.

BlackTruffleOil

The other day I found some black truffle olive oil on sale, marked down to about 80% off the original price. It seems astonishing, but apparently people aren’t buying truffle oil in this economy. Go figure. So, lucky me that I happened to spot this lonely bottle on the clearance table! Me, who loves to make gourmet things but can never afford gourmet ingredients. Fortunately, this recipe is still good without the truffle flavoring in case you don’t have it, but if you’re lucky enough to find some on sale, it’s a delicious way to introduce truffles into your cooking in a fairly subtle way.

I once read an article that described truffles as tasting and smelling like sex or lust. Fascinatingly, black truffles actually contain a sex hormone related to testosterone that is also found in the underarm perspiration of the human male and the urine of females. That hormone is also similar to a pig sex hormone. So this explains everything! No wonder pigs are so good at finding them, and humans consider them an aphrodisiac. Perhaps you’re thinking you don’t want armpit on your fries. Oh, but just wait. Don’t judge until you taste! (I promise if you don’t like it, I’ll come over and eat them for you.)

Truffle Oven Fries with Pesto Dip

4 medium red potatoes
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp. truffle oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Slice your potatoes in vertical strips. Be sure not to get them too thin or they will be too floppy to dip when cooked. Between 1/4 and 1/2 inch is good. Throw the strips in a bowl with the olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Toss to coat. Spread onto a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray or a mist of olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in pan to loosen and flip. Bake for 10-15 minutes more. Some will get pretty brown, so watch closely to prevent burning. Remove pan from oven. Transfer strips into a clean bowl. Drizzle the truffle oil over the top and toss again to distribute.

If you are nervous about the flavor, you can also add the truffle oil in the first step (with the olive oil)¬†before baking. This will result in a less pungent taste. Technically you’re supposed to use the oil on cooked foods as a finish, but it’s okay to break the rules sometimes.

Pesto Dip

1/4 cup basil pesto (I use jarred.)
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

Just mix this all together and put it in a pretty container. The extra ingredients make the jarred pesto taste a little more homemade. Serve with fries as a dipping sauce.

See? You don’t have to do it the Martha Stewart, sweating-over-your-mortar-and-pestle¬†way to achieve deliciousness. No one will ever know you didn’t grind that basil yourself. My lips are sealed!

Tasty Tuesday: Special Chicken

kiev-skyline

I’ve been making this chicken dish since high school — it’s one of my favorite recipes, and I tend to bust it out for just about all get togethers, dates, birthdays, and special occasions, because everyone seems to love it. It’s one of the few recipes I have memorized. When I learned how to make this, it was in a cookbook of my mother’s and titled, “Chicken Kiev.” That’s what we called it for many years, and some people still do.

But since true Chicken Kiev is made with a pocket and stuffed with butter and herbs, and then breaded and baked, it’s really a very different thing from this. So, I have taken to calling it “Special Chicken.”¬†Friends, when requesting it,¬†have called it “The Chicken with the Onions,” “Butter Chicken,” The One with the Bread Crumbs.” I considered “Party Chicken,” but my Nana already has a famous Party Chicken recipe involving chipped beef and cream of celery soup. Which sounds weird but is actually delicious.

Anyway, this recipe is easy and always a big hit, and involves a lot of butter. You can easily reduce the amounts listed here to make it a little healthier, or use Smart Balance or some kind of heart-healthier spread. I don’t really like to eat much that has unpronounceable ingredients or chemicals, so I use butter and try to moderate, unless it’s a special occasion, which is when I’d be making this anyway.

ChickenKiev13

Special Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (can also use tenderloins)
1 stick of butter, divided
1 onion, finely minced
1/4 cup of dry white wine
1/2 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
2 tbsp grated parmesan
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, melt half the stick of butter. In second small bowl, mix together bread crumbs, parmesan, basil, oregano, garlic salt, and salt. Dip each chicken breast in butter, then in bread crumb mixture, coating well. Lay them in an ungreased 9×13 pan. Bake for 50 minutes.

Finely mince one yellow onion. In another small bowl, melt the other half stick of butter. (Don’t reuse from the first half stick — it had raw chicken in it.) Add the onion and white wine to the melted butter.

If you are in a pinch, you can use apple juice instead of white wine. Just makes it slightly sweeter and makes the chicken very moist. But very little difference in taste. If you are using wine, I recommend using slightly more than the 1/4 cup that is called for. Maybe like 1/2 cup. I think this helps the meat’s¬†moisture retention.

After the chicken has baked for about 50 minutes, remove from oven, and pour the onion/wine/butter mixture over the tops of the chicken breasts. Use it all! Put this back in the oven for another 5-7 minutes, until the onion mixtures looks a little browned. Remove and enjoy! 

I prefer it¬†eaten simply with any kind of potatoes and broccoli,¬†because it’s just delicious on its own, but I’ve also used pasta with alfredo sauce as a nice base or side.

Tasty Tuesday: Roasted Vegetables

roasted%20vegetables

Little known fact: I love roasted vegetables.¬†Roasting brings out¬†natural sweetness and enhances flavor. Why would you steam when you could roast? Steaming is so bland. Anyway, roasted veggies are my favorite diet food, because it doesn’t taste like diet food. Here’s how I do it. I like to keep it simple, but you can go crazy with the variety of vegetables you use. In addition to what’s listed below, I also like to use cherry tomatoes and red, yellow, and orange bell peppers for added flavor.¬†Green bell peppers, I am not so big on.¬†I think they smell good, but I have a hard time choking them down. Below is just what I happened to have on hand.

Roasted Vegetables

1 yellow squash
1 zucchini
1 yellow onion
8 oz. fresh mushrooms
Extra-Virgin olive oil
Garlic powder
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Chop everything but the mushrooms¬†into bite-size pieces and throw into a bowl. Add 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Try not to think about Rachel Ray while you’re using¬†the EVOO. (I’m convinced she’s an alien. And I hate the term EVOO.)¬†Toss to coat. Spread out mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet. Top that layer with the mushrooms, almost as if you were adding pepperonis to a pizza. I like to keep the mushrooms on top so they get cooked through really well…because as much as I love cooked mushrooms, I hate raw ones. Sprinkle everything with some garlic powder, and drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil over the top,¬†with¬†your thumb¬†corking the bottle opening to allow only a small amount to escape. Bake 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir around to make sure nothing is sticking. Return to oven for another 10 minutes. Enjoy!

Tasty Thursday: Chicken Tacos

shredded-chicken-tacos

A couple weekends ago, I had some people over for dinner and board games. (I love Trivial Pursuit, and I am not ashamed to admit it.) I made chicken tacos using the crockpot. I love my crockpot. Here is the very easy recipe.

Crockpot Chicken Tacos

1 pkg boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 pkg taco seasoning
1 jar salsa
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2-3 jalapenos, chopped

Put the chicken, onions, and peppers in the crockpot. Mix together the salsa and taco seasoning. Pour over the chicken. Cook on high 4-6 hours or low 6-8. When it’s done, use a fork to shred the chicken. Serve with tortilla shells and all kinds of toppings, like lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, etc.

Since shredded meat is the basis for 99% of all Mexican food (well, maybe Americanized Mexican food), this mixture can be used to make whatever you like — tacos, burritos, salad, nachos, you name it.

Tasty Tuesday: Poulet de Chavignol

You’ll have to use your imagination with today’s recipe, because I forgot to take a picture. And since I completely made up this recipe on my own, I can’t really filch one from another website. Well, I’m sure someone somewhere came up with this before me, but I was sort of proud of myself for using ingredients I had on hand to create something fairly gourmet. I’m trying to be a more adventurous cook.

Poulet de Chavignol

4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thin cut
1/2 package bacon, fried
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
4 oz. herbed goat cheese
1 1/4 cups dry white wine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
2 tbsp olive oil

Place chicken breasts in plastic bag with 1 cup dry white wine, garlic, pepper, Worchestershire sauce, 1 tbsp olive oil. Marinate in refrigerator for at least one hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook bacon in frying pan and set aside. Leave the bacon drippings in the pan and add 1 tbsp olive oil and 1/4 cup white wine. Add mushrooms and sautee until browned. Set aside. Place chicken breasts in 9 x 13 pan. Top chicken breasts with bacon and mushrooms. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven and top chicken breasts with slices or crumbles of herbed goat cheese. Return to oven until goat cheese is semi-melted. 

I don’t ever really like leftovers, but this was actually almost better the next day.

Tasty Tuesday: Peasant Greek Salad

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Lately I’ve been craving Greek salad. I had quite a few ingredients on hand, but not all of them. Like lettuce for example. And at 9:30 pm when I was hungry and decided to make this, I was not so excited about heading to the grocery store. So I made a slightly different version, and it turned out pretty well. Apparently someone else invented this before me (imagine that) and called it Peasant Greek Salad.

Peasant Greek Salad

1 cucumber, seeded and diced
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1 red onion, diced
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. lemon pepper
Greek vinaigrette salad dressing

Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Chill for at least one hour to let the flavors marry. I omitted olives and sun-dried tomatoes because I don’t particularly care for them, but you could add those also. My mom makes a version of this with orzo that is divine.

Tasty Tuesday: Perfect Baked Potatoes

bakpot

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Like anyone doesn’t know how to make a baked potato.” Either that, or “Man, she sure does like potatoes.” Well, yes, I do. In fact, I might even go so far as to say they are my favorite vegetable. I like them in any disguise. And as a busy singleton, I can and do¬†live for a while on simple meals like baked potatoes, tuna salad, and waffles. When I was growing up, my mom used to make baked potatoes in the microwave. It is definitely the quickest method, but really not the tastiest. I have experimented with different ways of cooking baked potatoes over the years, and I’m going to share with you my failsafe recipe. It’s easy, I promise.

All right, first you’re going to take a potato (any kind)¬†and wash it. Scrub the dirt off (please use something with bristles) and cut out any bad places. Using a sharp knife, stab slits into the potato all over. Careful not to stab your hands, kids. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put about a tablespoon of cooking oil (any kind will do)¬†on a small plate. Dip the potato into the oil and use your thumb to spread it out over the potato. You might do that on each side. Now sprinkle salt (any kind) onto the potato for a light, all-over coating. Set the potato directly onto the oven rack (in the middle), and leave it there for one hour. (“One hour, one hour, one hour! Thaaank YOU!” Can anyone ID the movie?)¬†At that point, use a potholder to pull the rack out a little and transfer the potato to a plate. Let it sit on the plate for about a minute before you cut into it, so that it cooks just a little bit longer. Now, have your way with it using the toppings of your choice.

A couple of tips:

If you are using the smallest size red, new,¬†or fingerling potatoes, you need to bake several at one time to use the instructions above. If they are so small that they’re going to fall through the bars on your oven rack, you should use one of those baking pans with the built-in rack over a pan. The reason for not using just a regular baking pan is that you want the air to be able to circulate all the way around the potato for even cooking.

If you’re using a gigantic baking potato, you might want to leave it in a little bit longer than an hour. Also, let it sit on the plate for maybe 4 minutes to continue steaming itself.

Sometimes I crank up the oven to 400 degrees F, because I like my potato skins as crispy as possible, and the higher heat seems to do the trick.

Tasty Tuesday: Jason’s Deli

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Before I moved to Winston-Salem, I had never heard of Jason’s Deli. It’s a national chain that has more of a focus on healthy menu choices than most places. The only times I’ve eaten their food have been when my office has ordered in for lunch, even though it’s¬†only two blocks away. The first time I had some kind of chicken panini with pesto. It was good but not great. Last time, I got French onion soup and a Caesar side salad. Again, just so-so. So, I have not been that impressed up until today because everything I chose seemed to be lacking a certain unidentifiable something. Today I got the California Club, and finally I¬†had something I’d call very good. Turkey, swiss, red onion, homemade guacamole, and bacon on a croissant. Wholly satisfying. Highly recommended.

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