January 4, 2016

Roasted Peppers and Boursin Steak Quesadillas

I made a lovely bone-in prime rib roast for Christmas dinner and still had copious amounts of slabbed meat hanging around in the fridge...more than a week later. EEK! Usually, our leftovers get eaten quicker than this (within a week), but it was a huge roast for us and we just couldn't get through it quickly. A week was cutting it close, and more than a week had become longer than what I was comfortable with keeping it. I knew the clock was ticking for the spoilage factor, and I certainly didn't want our yummy prime rib to go to waste.

The issue was that after an additional meal or two, the decadent prime rib became almost too much of a good thing. I needed to change things up, since the kiddos and I were starting to experience steak fatigue (I don't know if that is really an actual thing or not). Poor us, I know. It was a nice problem to have, but I had to figure out something else to do with the leftover meat. I remembered that I wanted to explore my new America's Test Kitchen The Best Simple Recipes cookbook a little more, so I turned there to look for some beef-repurposing ideas. Lo and behold, I found this quesadilla recipe that I could adapt for my leftover situation. It ended up being exactly what I needed. As every recipe in the ATK cookbook is designed for cooking in 30 minutes or less, the already-cooked steak made it even faster/easier to make. Did I mention it was fantastically delicious, too??? Ya, it was. I got rave reviews all around from the adaptation and was able to successfully use the rest of the prime rib without the issue of the aforementioned meat fatigue.

As for the recipe, I made some minor substitutions each time I made it. I will copy the recipe below as it's printed in the cookbook and then write my adaptation below in the notes. Seriously, I have probably have had more of these quick quesadillas than I'd had of the roast in it's original form. With that said, I wouldn't hesitate to buy some steaks and make this again from scratch. It is definitley worthy of a go, even if meat leftovers aren't available.

Roasted Peppers and Boursin Steak Quesadillas
From: America's Test Kitchen The Best Simple Recipes cookbook

2 Strip Steaks ( 10-12 Ounces Each) About 1 Inch Thick (or substitute leftover steak)
Salt and Pepper
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 ( 5.2 Ounce) Package Boursin Cheese (or substitute goat cheese)
1 1/2 Cups Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
4(12-Inch) Flour Tortillas
1/2 Cup Jarred Roasted Red peppers, Drained and Sliced Thin
4 Scallions, Sliced Thin (or substitute sliced shallots or a small sliced red onion)

Pat steaks dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium high heat until just smoking. Cook steaks until well browned, 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer to plate and let rest 5 minutes, then slice thin against grain. Wipe out skillet.

While steaks rest, combine Boursin, cheddar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in bowl. Spread one-quarter of cheese mixture evenly over half of one tortilla, leaving 1/2 inch border around edge. Top with peppers, scallions and sliced steak. Fold tortilla over filling and press down firmly. Repeat with remaining filling and tortillas.

Add 2 quesadillas to empty skillet and cook over medium high heat until golden and crisp, 1-2 minutes. Flip quesadillas and cook until golden brown and cheese if melted. 1-2 minutes. Transfer to cutting board and repeat with remaining quesadillas. Cut into wedges and serve.


For the adaptation of leftovers:

Cut the cooked steak into small, bite-sized cubes and set aside. (I had to cut mine off the bone-in cooked roast and then cube the meat). With a skillet on high, cook red onions or shallots (or both) and the roasted red peppers until they begin to become caramelized. Add the already-cooked leftover steak in the pan to reheat it. When the mixture is nicely browned, remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Return the skillet to the stovetop, and spray with cooking spray. On the tortillas, spread the Boursin or goat cheese (or a mixture of both), sprinkle the shredded cheddar cheese, and then add the meat/onion/pepper mixture on top. Fold tortillas in half as directed above and toast in the skillet until cheese is melted and tortilla is slightly crispy and browned. Remove from skillet to cutting board, cut into wedges, and serve.

Don't forget to marvel at how easy these were to make and how delicious they turned out to be.

One more thing...for the Christmas dinner prime rib roast, I used the Pioneer Woman's recipe found in her holiday cookbook and on the Food Network website. It was also amazing!

December 23, 2015

Elk Stew with Mushrooms and Wine

I recently acquired an elk tenderloin and some elk stew meat, and I was dying to cook either one or both of those samples up. I am mostly unfamiliar with game meat, only having had it a handful of times, and never preparing it myself. I decided to dip my toe in the water by making the stew meat first, just in case there were any issues with my game meat preparation skills. In case of a snafu,I didn't want to ruin the more prized tenderloin upon my first go. That type of cooking disaster could really shake a persons kitchen confidence. I didn't need that stress! Anyway, I did some Internet searching and came across this recipe from a Wyoming food blog. I rationalized that Wyoming-ites (Wyoming-ons?? Wyoming-ers??)--being outdoorsy/woodsy sort of folk--would know what to do with freshly-hunted elk meat. I made the decision to try their version of elk stew. It also didn't hurt that the posted recipe looked ridiculously mouth-watering. Hello, bacon and mushrooms!

The first thing that struck me about the elk meat was the color. It was an oddly beautiful shade of ruby red. It reminded me of the color of really high-quality blue fin tuna. There was a slight odor, but not in a bad way; just in the way that reminded you it wasn't a homogenized piece of packaged, grocery store beef (cleansed from all of it's original animalness with only God-knows-what type of chemicals). The best way to describe the smell was a very slight metallic tinge. It was actually refreshing to have meat that was so minimally processed and direct from nature. Circle of life, and all that...I actually really liked how it looked and smelled.

So, I basically followed this recipe to the letter, but I varied the cooking method. Instead of using a slow cooker, I braised it low and slow in the oven for a couple of hours. I have some fancy, French, enameled cast-iron cookware that is designed for braising, so I took the opportunity to use it as it was intended. Also, I didn't get my act together in time to get it into the slow cooker that morning. I ended up serving our stew as recommended by the blog, with buttered egg noodles. A side salad and dinner rolls were additional compliments to our elk feast.

I am glad I tried it out, because this recipe was amazing. It will be my go-to for any future elk stews. I dare say, the leftovers the next day were even more flavorful than the first go-round. Yum! My only misstep was that I forgot to click a photo. I am kicking myself that I forgot, because it looked just as good as it tasted. All around, this was a HIT.

Last but not least: a special thanks to J., who procured the elk meat with his manly-man hunting skills. I truly appreciate him sharing his bounty of elk with me.

Elk Stew with Mushrooms and Wine
Adapted From: Jackson Hole Foodie blog

4 oz. thick cut bacon, chopped
3 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
3 lb. elk meat, or other game, or beef chuck, cut into 1 inch chunks
3/4 lb. fresh Cremini mushrooms, halved if large
1/2 lb. baby carrots, or carrots cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 lb. frozen pearl onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup beef broth
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced

In a large cast iron enameled pot, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. (You'll add the bacon to the stew at the end).

Pour off all the bacon drippings into a cup, and return 1 tsp. to the pot.

Place the elk meat in a large baggie with the flour, salt and pepper.

Shake the meat until it is nicely coated with with the seasoned flour.

Heat the pot with the bacon grease over a medium-high flame. When the grease is starting to sputter, add half the meat cubes. Let the meat sear with out turning it until it is nicely browned. Brown the other side, then transfer to a plate (I used the lid of my braising pot).

Sear the rest of the meat as above, adding more bacon drippings if needed.

Throw in the mushrooms, carrots, garlic and onions into pot and let them brown and soften a bit. Add the meat back in.

Add the tomato paste and let it brown for a minute or so. This will give the sauce an additional richness in both taste and color.

Now deglaze the pot, so that you can add all those flavorful juices to your stew. Heat the pan over a medium-high flame. Add the wine and beef broth. Bring to a boil, and deglaze the pan by scraping up all the browned bits with a wooden spoon. (If you're pot is nonstick, please use a plastic spoon for this!).

Cover the pot with foil and place the lid firmly on the pot for the braise. Cook in the oven at 275 degree oven for 2 hours.

Once the meat is very tender, add the reserved bacon bits and the rosemary. Cook on high with the lid off to thicken the sauce on the stove top, if needed.

--OR-- Blend some cornstarch up with 1 cup of cooking liquid. Once combined (without lumps) add back to pot and stir to thicken into a gravy texture. Do this on the stove top over low to medium-low heat. I find that the additional heat on the stovetop encourages the gravy to come together.

Taste for salt. You may want to add more; it really brings out the flavor of the meat.

Let it cool a bit, and serve with buttered noodles.

December 22, 2015

Toasted Turkey and Smoked Mozzarella Subs

I saved my favorite recipe for the last update of the day. I have a unnatural affinity for sandwiches. I feel like Joey from Friends. I think it was the trivia game episode when Joey and Chandler faced off against Rachel and Monica to see who would win the apartment. They had to play a game of who knows whom better with random personal facts, and there was a lightning round. One of the questions was "what is Joey's favorite food?"...the answer: "sandwiches". Trust me, it was HI-larious. (If you don't get that Friends reference, I will be sad because that means I am really old and the 90's were the highlight of my pop culture existence.)

Anyway, I digress...

Where were we? Ah yes...sandwiches! They are yummy. This one was particularly yummy. Like really yummy.

Joey would've approved. ("Heeeeeeyyy, how YOU doin'?")

Try it and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Toasted Turkey and Smoked Mozzarella Subs
From: America's Test Kitchen Simple Recipes cookbook

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained
2/3 cup basil pesto (homemade or jarred is fine...just use your favorite kind)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 (6 inch) sub sandwich rolls, slit partially open lengthwise
1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced deli turkey
12 ounces smoked mozzarella, sliced into thin rounds

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Heat oil, garlic, and pepper flakes in large skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook until mixture is dry, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in 2 tablespoons pesto and season with salat and pepper to taste.

Spread remaining pesto inside each roll, then layer with turkey, tomato mixture, and cheese. Place sandwiches on baking sheet and bake until edges of bread are golden and cheese begins to melt, about 5 minutes. Serve.

Gnocchi with Squash, Spinach, and Prosciutto

I was skeptical about the combined flavors of this recipe. While I love each individual component, I couldn't imagine how this would go together and not taste weird or dry or bland. It was none of the above. I was really delicious! There ended up being a light "sauce" that pulled itself together during the cooking method. The flavors were interesting and neither boring nor weird. My kids even gobbled it up. If you have spent any amount of time perusing my blog, you know how important it is for me to get my kids to eat decently healthy, "real" food without fuss. This was no fuss. I am ashamed to admit I doubted it. I forgot to take a pic when I served it the night we had it for dinner, so I ended up snapping a photo of it when I heated it up the next day. It looks a little less great than it did the night before as it sits in the Tupperware, waiting to be microwaved. Don't let my crappy photography skills dissuade you from trying it, though. It was good and quite appetizing looking when we served it for dinner. I will say the lunch photo reminded me that the leftovers were delicious, as well. I put that as another check in the pro column for this dish. If the leftovers are good the next day and you still enjoy eating it, then I think that is the mark of a good recipe.

Gnocchi with Squash, Spinach, and Prosciutto
From: America's Test Kitchen Simple Recipes cookbook

4 tablespoons of butter
6 slices of good quality prosciutto, cut into 1/4-inch strips (I used prosciutto de Parma)
2 peeled and seeded butternut squash halves (12 to 16 ounces each), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons minced fresh thyme
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock or broth
1 pound of vacuum-packed gnocchi
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces of fresh baby spinach (I used a pre-prepared bag)

Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook prosciutto until crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate.

Add squash and refining butter to empty skillet and cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in wine and cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add broth (or stock) and cook until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, add gnocchi and 1 tablespoon of salt to boiling water and cook until gnocchi float to the surface, about 4 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water, drain gnocchi, and return to pot. Add squash mixture and toss to combine. Stir in spinach until just wilted, adding reserved pasta water as needed. Stir in prosciutto and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

I just bought a whole butternut squash and peeled, halved, cleaned, and diced it myself. Also, I did spring for the fresh thyme. As I mentioned, I was skeptical about this recipe so I pretty much followed it to the letter to give it the best possible outcome. Fresh herbs are never a mistake, so if it works for your budget try and get fresh. If not, I think substituting dried would be ok...you'd just have to do some Googling and adjust for the difference between dried vs. fresh in the recipe.

Whole Wheat Salami Pizza

It's fun to just do a classic every now and then. This recipe is really unremarkable. The only reason I am updating it on the blog is for a general reminder. Sometimes the best dinners are simple and the ones that your kids get to help you make. My 5 year old twins really loved assembling this pizza. And when I say assemble, I really do mean assemble. I bought the whole wheat, pre-made dough, jarred pizza sauce, shredded cheese and toppings. I did get nutty and buy salami slices, instead of pepperoni...but that difference was negligible. However, the assembly part was what put this pizza over the top . Helping mommy in the kitchen and us spending time together doing something fun was where all the magic was in this meal. I will say that the kids swore up and down that this pizza tasted better than any pizza they've ever had. Actually, I agree with them on that point. It did taste better than any other pizza. Not because it was a super-fantastic culinary taste sensation, but because it was made with precious little hands and they lit up like Christmas trees in being tasked with dinner preparation. It was fun to make and fun to watch them delight in something so small. I need to remember to do stuff like that with them more often, that is for sure. We served our pizza with a bagged Ceasars salad kit, and had ice cream with chocolate syrup for dessert. It was one of my top 10 meals of my year.

Whole Wheat Salami Pizza

1 ball of pre-made whole wheat pizza crust
1 package of shredded mozzarella cheese (I think they are 8 oz bags)
1 package of shredded cheddar cheese
1 jar of your favorite pizza sauce
1 package of salami
cooking spray

Follow the directions for the pizza dough printed on the bag. Preheat the oven to whatever degrees. Roll out the dough. Coat a sheet pan with cooking spray and then sprinkle cornmeal on the pan, so the pizza doesn't stick. Make sure your small "assistants" have clean hands that are booger-free. Help your kids maneuver the rolled out dough into the pan. Let them fold the edges over to make the crust. Step away from the pizza. Let your kids do the rest of the work, while you supervise. Let them spread the sauce from the jar with spoons. Let them sprinkle all of the cheese. Let them willy-nilly place salami to and fro over the surface of the pizza. Ignore your anal-rententive urge to rearrange the salami slices to be symmetrical (ok, I may have failed at this step). Bake pizza as directed. When pizza comes out of the oven, let it cool for 5 minutes and then cut it with a pizza wheel into slices (or squares in our case). Sit back and revel in the smiles that your children have while enjoying their creation.

Dump and Bake Meatball Casserole

This recipe caught my eye on Pinterest because of the ease of putting it together. Anything entitled "dump and bake" has to be (a) quick (b) something kids would eat and (c) cheap. Since these are basically my three main components for recipe selection, I decided to give it a whirl. Overall, I will say that the recipe delivered. My only hitch with it was that the noodles over-cooked and were a tad too squishy. I am an al dente pasta lover, so super-soft noodles are not my jam. However, my kids appreciated the noodle texture and ate it like gangbusters (whatever that means). I think I would make this again, but reduce the cook time to get a more al dente pasta within the casserole, if that is possible. It's homey and comforting, and it will please the littles in your house. I did not get a pic, but you can use your imagination skills and envision what it looked like on the plate or in the pan (or just go to the linked website...there is a nice photo of it on there).

Dump and Bake Meatball Casserole
From: Pinterest- TheSeasonedMom.com

16 ounce rotini pasta ( uncooked )
25 ounce marinara sauce ( jar )
3 cups water
14 ounce meatballs ( package fully-cooked miniature, cocktail-size meatballs - if using frozen meatballs, make sure that )
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded ( or Italian blend )
To taste parmesan cheese ( optional for garnish )
To taste basil ( optional, fresh chopped herbs - such as basil, oregano, and parsley for garnish )

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
In a large baking dish, stir together uncooked pasta, marinara sauce, water, and meatballs. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover; stir. Sprinkle mozzarella over the top and bake uncovered for 10 more minutes (or until cheese is melted and pasta is tender).

I used dried herbs instead of fresh. I am cheap like that. And lazy.

Doritos Chicken and Cheese Casserole

I've been remiss again with blog posting. To be fair, I had decided to renew my interest in blogging during one of the most hectic times of the year. Not brilliant on my part. I was right in the middle of my school semester, barreling towards finals --and without catching a breath-- headed straight on into the holidays. Needless to say, I cooked a few new recipes and then went right back into survival mode (read: breakfast for dinner and mac n cheese from the blue box). At any rate, my kiddos and I are in the midst of winter break and I am finally catching my breath. I have Christmas all locked down...except for gift wrapping. Since I need to do that sans-children, I am left with getting odds and ends accomplished on my to-do list completed. Blog updates is one of those check boxes.

I don't remember exactly when we had this casserole, but I think it was the same week as the burgers from the previous post. I can see in the edges of the pic, I served it with rice and roasted broccoli. I remember we all loved it. I mean, really, what is not to love. Doritos, chicken, cheese...all rolled into casserole-y goodness. It was kid-friendly, to say the least. I will certainly put this on the list for a repeat dinner, provided I remember it and I am feeling like I want to cook an actual meal again someday (it is a rare occurrence these days). This recipe was very yummy and so easy, a chimp could put it together. If that is not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is!

Doritos Chicken and Cheese Casserole
From: Pinterest- Pindelight.com

3 cups cooked chicken, chopped (I used a rotisserie chicken)
1 cup sour cream
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can of corn, drained
1/4 cup minced onion
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 medium sized bag of nacho cheese Doritos, crushed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.Lightly spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray. Spread the bottom of the pan with half of the Doritos . Reserve one cup of cheese. Mix together remaining ingredients in a large bow. Pour chicken mixture over the Doritos. Top casserole with the remaining cheese and Doritos. Bake 30 minutes or until bubbly.

October 24, 2015

I've Been Thinking About My Blog Lately...and All-In-One Burgers

It's been over 2 years since I have posted anything new to this blog, and I have been thinking a lot about why--lo those many months ago--I made the decision to stop writing and cooking. My blog had been a big part of my life for years. It was my outlet and my hobby. So why didn't I want to do it anymore? Why did I stop? Thinking back, I've come to realize the answer...I was unhappy. When I think about that period in my life, I have the distinct memory of feeling numb, and stuck, and not the least bit creative or inspired. I didn't want to cook. I took no pleasure in the process of making food for my loved ones. I didn't watch cooking shows. I didn't read any cookbooks, and I certainly didn't create any new recipes on my own. I merely wanted to get meals on the table as a means to survive. Quick and easy preparation...the path of least resistance. I became stagnant, and I didn't want to be bothered with actual cooking. Within my self-assessment of why I stopped blogging and cooking, I have come to understand that being unhappy effected everything. Well, duh right? Funnily enough,it wasn't so obvious for me. I never realized that the dissatisfaction that I was feeling overall was also being played out in my own kitchen. I knew I didn't have as much patience (just ask my kids about that one) and I was anxious and depressed,but I just never put two and two together.

Fast forward two plus years (and a bunch of significant life changes) and I am, once again, happy. I have the perspective I needed to resolve what I was going through and correlate that those feelings translated to cooking and writing, too. Overall, I think the break was exactly what I needed. I am settling into the rhythm of my own life and my interest in cooking has sparked once again. I have been looking at recipes, purchasing cookbooks, and I find myself looking forward to cooking dinner every night. I think I have decided to keep this blog (and actually update it) as a means to catalog what I am doing with recipes. During my hiatus,I've often referred to my blog to look up different dishes and I was thankful that I kept it as a database of sorts. I've decided that I want to keep the ongoing record by adding new meals that we love. I don't care about followers (I don't think I still have any, anyway), monotizing/advertising, keeping a rigid blogging schedule, or making the graphics look all fresh and cutting edge. Writing HTML code was always a pain in the ass for me, so I'm skipping it this time around. I've decided I want to start updating my blog again for me. I feel like I've rediscovered my voice. I may change my mind on all the other stuff eventually, but for now, the blog is going to be a myopic endeavor; purely for my own amusement.

So, with all of that said, here is my first new recipe since July of 2013. And trust me, it's a good one.

All-In-One Burgers
Adapted From: America's Test Kitchen The Best Simple Recipes cookbook

6 slices bacon, chopped fine
1 pounds 90% lean ground beef
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 teaspoons yellow mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp, 10-12 minutes. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate.
Break beef into small pieces in bowl, then add bacon, cheese, mustard, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Lightly knead mixture by hand until combined. Divide into 4 equal portions, then form each into loose ball and gently flatten into 1-inch-thick patty. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.

In the same skillet used to cook the bacon, drain off most of the fat (but leave enough of the leftover bacon bits and a tablespoon or so of the grease). Fry the burgers over high heat, without pressing on them, until well seared on both sides and cooked through; about 2-3 minutes per side for medium rare. If you like your burgers a bit more done, add a another 1-2 minutes per side.

Once the burgers are finished cooking,transfer them to platter. Cover with foil and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

I served mine on pretzel buns with mayo and ketchup, since the mustard was already combined into the burger. Whoa mama! These were delicious. All of my kiddos ate them with enthusiasm, including my youngest daughter...the pickiest of the picky. The original recipe calls for grilling the burgers, but I decided to cut out the middle man and just cook them in the skillet that I used for the bacon. It was one less thing to clean up and all the bits of bacon-y goodness were still in the pan, ready to be embedded into the seared burgers. The same pan was a good call, the burgers ended up to be exactly how I wanted them...juicy, bacon-laced perfection.