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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Spicy Pasta Alfredo with Veggies

I've made you wait long enough and here it is!
Spicy Pasta Alfredo with Veggies

This dish is soooo easy that it'll become a weekly favorite at your house like it has at mine!  For the dish you'll need:

1 lb. pasta, uncooked (I used macaroni, but I really like penne or rigatoni)
4 oz. can mushroom slices, drained
12 oz. grilled/roasted chicken breast, diced
16 oz. Ragu cheesy garlic sauce (their version of alfredo)
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
2 oz. mini pepperoni
2 cups baby spinach
1 clove garlic, minced
red pepper flakes (to taste)
salt (to taste)
pepper (to taste)


Cook pasta per directions-being sure to salt the water to add flavor to your pasta, reserve one cup of starchy water from pasta once cooked and drain. In a large sauce pan, spray liberally with non-stick cooking spray, heat on medium and saute zucchini for 2-3 minutes.  Next, add tomatoes.


The idea here is to cook the veggies that take the longest, first and add the ones that don't take very long as we go.  Again, saute for just a couple of minutes.  The tomatoes should just be warm, not ready to burst.  Next, add the mushrooms.


Doesn't this look yummy?  Now we're at the point where the mushrooms are already cooked and just need to heat up.  This doesn't take very long, maybe a minute or two.  Just stir the vegetables so that the heat is evenly distributed.   Here comes the good part:  baby spinach!


Because you just want the spinach to wilt a little, you can literally put it in the pan, stir it around and it's done.  Like 20 seconds!  Now, pour the veggie mixture onto the pasta.  Into the skillet will go another shot of non-stick cooking spray, the chicken, pepperoni and red pepper flakes. I use just a couple of good shakes on the red pepper flakes.  It lightly warms the tongue without feeling like you're on fire.


Since the chicken and pepperoni are both cooked, they only need to heat for 2-3 minutes.  Add minced garlic at this point.  Just give them a good stir to keep from sticking.  Next, add the pasta sauce.  Once you've dumped the jar onto the meat, pour the cup of reserved liquid into the jar, cap it and shake vigorously.  Pour over mixture.


Here's the best part!  It's almost done!  Just give this a good stir, cook for 3-4 minutes until the sauce is heated thoroughly and pour over pasta, veggie mixture.


Once the sauce is on, return mixture to heat and incorporate by gently stirring. You don't want the veggies to break down, but just enough that the sauce covers everything.


Salt and pepper to taste.  You may find it doesn't need much since there's seasoning on the chicken, pepperoni and in the sauce.  I literally used a dash of black pepper in mine, no salt needed.


I served mine with garlic knots (mmm, my favorite!).  It's a big hit in my family and you'll soon see why!  Give it go and see what happens at your house!

NOTE:  In place of or in addition to the zucchini, I've used eggplant, squash, okra, really any summer veggie is great!  Just don't add too much as it makes the dish mushy!  You can also substitute your favorite green in place of the baby spinach!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Buckeye Brownies

Buckeye Brownies seem to be the rage these days and I've been meaning to make them for some time, but now that the weather is warmer, I don't turn my oven on unless I can make several items at once.
Buckeye Brownies
So, a friend asked me, "What are buckeyes?" "What?" I replied.  Who doesn't know what a buckeye is?  Well, apparently my friend!  "Buckeyes," I explained, "are those wonderfully chocolate covered peanut butter balls that we make at Christmas, you know the ones with only half of the candy covered?"  Her eyes lit up and she nodded, finally understanding.  "So, how are you going to make that into brownies?"  she asked.  Well, I'm glad she did.

I don't normally use boxed mixes, but I stopped and picked up a box of "Family Size" brownie mix (for a 9x13x2" pan) and followed the instructions on the back, up to the point of putting it in the oven.  Then, just for giggles, I put in a handful of chocolate chips.  Bake it per directions, cutting it short by 2 minutes.  Why?  I wanted the brownies to be softer than normal.   Oh yeah.

Buckeye Brownie (bars?)  :)
So, easy so far, right?  Now, while the brownies are cooling, mix the following:

1/4 cup margarine (yes, no butter this time-this is one of the rare few times that I'll tell you to use margarine-it keeps the mixture soft)
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 TBS. vanilla

Blend margarine and peanut butter together until smooth.  Add powdered sugar and using a handheld mixer, mix until incorporated.  Add vanilla, mix once more. Once brownies have cooled, spread the peanut butter mixture over top and put in the fridge to completely cool.

Now, for the fun part!  Empty a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips into a double boiler (or in my case, into a glass mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water), add 1 tsp. vegetable shortening or coconut oil and stir as needed, when the chips begin to melt.  Once they're completely melted, remove brownies from fridge, pour melted chocolate over the top and spread to cover the peanut butter.  Once it's set up, you can cut to your hearts content!

Hope you enjoy!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Peanut Butter Pleasures

There's a deli in this small town I call home that makes something my hubby has loved for years. Peanut butter mousse!  I was never one for it, not even a big peanut butter fan until recent years.  Suddenly, I crave it, can't get enough of it and have been putting it on everything, including pork chops!  Yep, pork chops!

He coaxed me into taking just a bite of the mousse some time ago and I must admit, I was hooked immediately!  It was a whipped, delectable, smooth-but covered with crushed peanut butter cups-no other flavors needed-kind of flavor. It coated my tongue, staying around to entice me into one more bite and another. I refused to go near that section of the store because there would be no turning back.  It wasn't enough that it tasted so good, I was terrified of the nutritional value (if any) and couldn't bring myself to even peek at it!  I'm going to share the recipe with you and hope you forgive me for the weight you're about to gain!  

First off, this makes a lot of mousse!  I'd suggest doing this for a dinner party of 8-10 people.

Peanut Butter Mousse

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
8 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temperature
4-6 oz. heavy whipping cream, whipped until stiff
1/2 cup mini peanut butter cups, roughly chopped

Mix first 3 ingredients in a bowl with a mixer until well blended.  Gently fold in whipped heavy whipping cream, being careful not to flatten it with excessive stirring. About half way through folding, toss in peanut butter cups.  Spoon into lovely serving dishes and garnish.  Refrigerate leftovers immediately (as if there'll be any!).
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Then, there's this peanut butter fudge that my folks have been making since before I was born that I loved and loved to hate.  I've always wanted to learn to make it from scratch, no marshmallow creme needed, to have that smoothness to it that I find in commercial fudges from candy stores.  I tinkered, tried, failed many times and just recently, I did it.  You're gonna love it! The trick to fudge that I've found is to not even attempt to make it on a damp or rainy day.  It's just not gonna work!  Here's my take on it. (No pic, sorry.  It didn't last long enough to snap one!)

Peanut Butter Fudge

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 stick butter (no substitutions, please)
3 cups sugar
18 oz. peanut butter
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 Tbs. vanilla

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, melt whipping cream and butter together. Gently add in sugar and stir until well mixed. On medium-low, bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly and being careful not allow the mixture to scorch.  Boil for 4-5 minutes or until the mixture reaches soft ball stage.  Remove from heat, add vanilla.  Do not stir.  Add peanut butter chips, stir until melted then add peanut butter.  Stir until well incorporated and pour into a buttered 9x13x2 pan.  Cool and serve. 
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Not that we haven't made it far enough into the delectable land of peanut butter, let me introduce you to peanut butter soup!  You heard me!  Peanut butter soup! Actually, it's a West African Dish called Peanut Butter Stew...I say pot-a-to, po-ta-to!  Hubby and I have some friends from various parts of West Africa who shared this recipe with us several years ago.  I couldn't bring myself to try it at first, but Lord-y, it's good!  
Peanut Butter Stew

West African Peanut Butter Stew

2 Tbs. oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. pork chops, cut into chunks (or chicken)
1 Tbs. crushed red pepper
8 cups chicken or beef stock
1/4 tsp. black ground pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
28 oz. can chopped tomatoes with green chilies
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed 
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1 cup chunky peanut butter
3/4 cup uncooked brown rice

Are you drooling yet?  Heat your oil in a large stock pot.  Cook onions and garlic until almost translucent.  Add pork.  Cook until done. Season with salt, pepper, chili powder, and crushed red pepper.  Stir in stock, potatoes, tomatoes and rice, stir well and bring to a boil, reducing heat to medium when reached.  Cook for about fifteen minutes.  Add peanut butter, stirring well, and cook for another thirty minutes, until rice is tender.

Another option is to cook the rice separately and serve the stew over top of it.  It's so delectable that I'm sure you'll thank me for it.  :)

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Peanut Butter Pie

You know that lovely recipe I posted at the top about mousse?  This is essentially the same thing with Cool-Whip being substituted and the peanut butter cups being removed.  It's really, really good!
Peanut Butter Pie

You'll need the following:

1 Graham Cracker Crust (I like the chocolate ones)
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
8 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temperature
8 oz. Cool Whip
1/2 cup hot fudge ice cream topping
4 large Reese's Cups, chopped plus 1 large Reese's Cup, cut in half

Mix first 4 ingredients in a bowl with a mixer until well blended.  Gently fold in Cool Whip and chopped peanut butter cups, being careful not to flatten it with excessive stirring. Spread into pie crust.  Gently heat hot fudge sauce in microwave to soften (not much, maybe 10-15 seconds at most), stir well and spread in a small circle on top of pie.  Using a toothpick, pull from the center creating a design on your pie (or swirl like I did here).  Place the halved Reese's cup pieces at an angle to each other.  Freeze for 20 minutes, store in refrigerator.  Serve near room temperature.
Peanut Butter Pie

Options:
Here are two options for you in this pie.  I love both and can't wait to hear your results!  Substitute a jar of hot fudge sauce (not melted) in place of the peanut butter for a hot fudge pie.  OR add 1/4 cup hot fudge sauce to the peanut butter mixture and increase your powdered sugar by 1/2 cup for a firm peanut butter chocolate pie. Last but not least, substitute Nutella for the peanut butter.  Do I need to say more?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Just a Bite- Raspberry Chipotle Sauce

It's tart and smokey, fragrant and enticing, so for a taste that can't be beat, put this concoction on your ham as a glaze, over cream cheese as shown below, on pork chops- you'll come up with any excuse to eat it once you try it!
Raspberry Chipotle Sauce over Cream Cheese

I used to be a Pampered Chef consultant (a job I really, really enjoyed) and they had a lovely condiment sauce called Raspberry Habanero Sauce  which was to die for and after I stopped consulting, I lost touch with the products and always kept meaning to buy a bottle or two to put in the pantry, but never did.

I had a get together last week for which I wanted to serve something simple, yet tasteful and elegant and this recipe did it for me.  You'll need:

12 oz. jar of seedless raspberry jam (*I used Smucker's, but Dickinson's would work just as well!)
2 Tbs. chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (**Goya or Clemente Jacques are both great!)
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. granulated sugar

Place all ingredients in a sauce pan, turn heat on medium low, stir until jam and sugar have melted and ingredients are well combined. Remove from heat, drizzle over room temperature cream cheese, brie or any other soft cheese that you prefer.  Serve with your favorite snack cracker or chip (blue corn tortillas are my fave!)!

Brand Choices:
*for the jam, I picked up Smucker's because it was close to me but I really like Dickinson's, as well.  Both can be found in most local groceries and Dickinson's can be found at Cracker Barrel restaurants, as well.

**for your chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, there are many, many, many brands available, depending on your geographic location.  My local grocery had several brands, as well as the ones mentioned above.  I've tried both of these brands and recommend either one.

OPTIONS:  This sauce is so versatile and easy to change if your taste runs a little more toward the spicy or sweet side.  To increase the spiciness, just add more peppers and sauce, 1/2 teaspoon at a time until you reach the desired flavor.  For more sweet, add more sugar or more jam.  Your choice.  If you taste is more for the tartness of this dish, up the balsamic vinegar, adding a small amount at a time. You can also mimic this sauce with any jam of your choice.  I've now tried blackberry, cherry, peach (this one is delish!!!)-try them all!  If you want a pepper with a little kick, substitute jalapeno, habanero or a pepper of your choice.

I'm getting requests for this quite often now, so it's sure to be a hit at your next get together!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

OMG Cheesecake Cookies

I'm not an advocate for our acronym-ladened social language, but for these, I couldn't resist!  I had an event that I had to go to and wanted to make something kind of dressed up, but irresistible and I found the perfect recipe!  The recipe I found was for a cheesecake flavored chocolate dipped cookie.  Yummy!  I love cheesecake and know just how easy it is to change the flavors of it, so I set out to make this delicious concoction!
"Almond Joy OMG Cheesecake Cookies"

Here's my adaptation of the recipe:

8 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups self-rising flour

Beat cream cheese and butter together. Add sugar to the butter mixture and cream until mixture is smooth. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.
In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, to sift it. Gradually add the flour to the butter mixture and mix until well combined.
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. (You can also put a little flour on your hands and shape these cookies, if you want a uniformed look).  Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.

"Orange Cream OMG Cheesecake Cookies"

OPTION ONE: Add 1/2 tsp. almond and 1/2 tsp. coconut flavorings to the batter.  Bake as directed.  Melt 1/3 bag milk chocolate, 1/3 bag semi-sweet and 1/3 bag 70% cacao chocolate chips plus 2 Tbs. vegetable shortening in a double boiler.  Once melted, dip 1/3-1/2 of the cookie in the chocolate and place on wax paper surface.  Sprinkle with slivered almonds and sweetened, shredded coconut.  Allow to dry completely.

OPTION TWO:  Add 1 tsp. orange flavoring plus 1/4 tsp. lemon oil (I found mine in the candy section at AC Moore) and a little orange food coloring (I used about 1/4 tsp) to the batter and bake as directed. Instead of dipping these, I drizzled the chocolate over them.  

All night long during the event, I kept hearing, "Oh My Gosh, these are the best cookies ever!"-hence the name!  Use your imagination on these cookies.  If it tastes good with chocolate, use it!  I have in mind to do some raspberry flavored ones with all dark chocolate.  Mmmm!