BananAppétit

This is yummy follow up to my easy, peasy, chocolate covered fruit recipe. Behold the frozen chocolate covered banana & peanut butter sandwiches with able assistance by Paquita, the butter knife-licking Chihuahua.

*For the chocolate, melt 1/4 cup of dark chocolate with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. For detailed instructions, click here.

Ingredients Kitchen Assistant Sammiches BananAppétit

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Roasted Avocado & Couscous Salad

While Christian hobnobs in LA (go see him perform!), I’m rounding out the last week of my month at the Rock House. Without the option of hundreds of restaurants and take-out menus all within a few blocks, I’ve had to seek out new things to cook for myself. I can only enjoy my Chicken Tortilla Soup so many times before it starts to feel like water torture. So, this is what I cooked up today.

INGREDIENTS:
1 AvocadoIngredients
1/4 cup couscous +  1/2 tspn olive oil
1/8 of a red onion or one shallot, finely chopped
1/3 cup water
Mixed salad greens, how much is up to you

DRESSING INGREDIENTS
Juice of 1 small lemon
1/2 tbsp olive oil

1. Pre-heat the oven to 400. Peel and deseed (? Is that a thing? A word? Sounds naughty in a biblical sense.) the avocado and cut into quarters. Place them in a greased pan. (I spray with Pam, but whatever. You get it.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. I went nuts on the pepper and will probably use more next time. I also used some garlic salt.
2. Roast the avocado for about 15 minutes. You want them to look a little bit golden-brown around the edges. While they’re roasting….
3. Throw some mixed greens into a bowl.
4. Juice your lemon into a little ramekin or bowl or whatever you’ve got and then stir in the 1/2 tbsp of olive oil. That’s your dressing.
5. Bring the 1/3 cup of water to boil. Once it’s boiling, add the couscous, 1/2 tsp olive oil, and red onion; cover and remove from heat. Let it sit 5 minutes before fluffing with a  fork.
6. Pour yourself a glass of wine and set your table.
7. Dump the couscous and red onion mixture on top of the greens. Add the roasted avocado and drizzle with lemon-olive oil dressing.

Eat your heart out and remember to thank me later!

This was one serving and a very healthy size for a girl. I ate almost 2 hours ago and am still stuffed. I could’ve done with a little less couscous for sure. On a hungrier stomach, sure. If you’re cooking for you and a dude (or, if you’re a dude, you and a chick), then double the portions and give him a bit more. That’s what I plan on doing when I see Christian next.

I also plan on trying it with quinoa instead of couscous at some point. Great option if you’re the gluten-free type. And I might throw in some grape tomatoes if they’re handy.

Roasted Avocado & Couscous Salad

Easy Monte Cristo Sandwich a/k/a Hot Ham & Swiss

Throughout my entire high school career, the only consistent meal I ate was school lunch. Rather than pay for the three-course meal that differed each day, I stuck with the cheaper choice offered at a sort of satellite take-out counter.

“One hot ham & cheese sandwich & a peanut butter wafer, please.”

Every. Single. Day.

The only time I wavered was because my pocketbook deemed it so that I could only have one or the other.

Now that I’m a grown up*, my taste buds have matured**. To make it a little more interesting for my adult palate, I made an easy twist on the plain old (processed) ham & (processed “yellow”) cheese sandwich.

INGREDIENTS FOR TWO:
1/3 of a sheet of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry (Ahem. Where’s my %, dudes. I’m still pimping ya!)
Deli ham of your choosing
Genuine fresh Swiss cheese
Dijon or other spicy mustard
One egg, lightly beaten (optional)

DIRECTIONS:
1) Pre-heat the oven to 400°
2) Roll out 1/3 of a sheet of puff pastry on to a lightly floured surface into a 12″ square then cut it in half.
3) Add a few slices of deli ham & swiss on each square of dough & smear it with dijon/spicy mustard.
4) Fold over your dough to make a sealed sandwich.
5) Coat with an egg wash if you like your dough looking brown and done. I’m cheap, so I save the egg unless I’m trying to show off for comp’ny
6) Bake for 20 minutes at 400°
7) Cut each sandwich in half and serve with cornichon pickles & an ice cold lager, because that’s what I like and I assume you’re inviting me over for lunch.

For a sweet twist on this savory recipe, skip the mustard and serve with maple syrup and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

*Still sucking syrup out of the bottle like it’s my mama’s teat & eating olives & pickles from the jar. I fear this will not change. Grown ups don’t do these things, do they?
**Matured=died. They’re dead. It takes habanero peppers drenched in wasabi make me taste anything.

Sugar & Spice & Everything Nice Cream

Sopaipillas & FlagIn high school, I studied Spanish for two years under the tutelage of Mrs. Spooner. One assignment required us to make a Mexican dish of our choosing. I elected sopapillas because, A) I loved them, and B) I knew I could get them at Pancho’s at their freakishly cheap “all you care to eat” buffet. After chowing down, I could simply raise the Mexican flag at my table, request additional sopaipillas from my server, stuff  them in my purse, repeat a few more times and still be home in time for Moonlighting.

“What’s a sopaipilla?” some of you might be wondering. It’s deep-fried pastry that can be used in all sorts of dishes, but is primarily served as a dessert served in the shape of a puffed up little pillow and served with honey. We would tear off a corner, pour a little honey in the hole, swirl it around and mmm, mmm, GOOD!

I have never seen them anywhere in the Midwest or Northeast (though I’m sure I’ll hear from someone telling me where they serve them around these parts). The one time I did order them from a menu at a New York restaurant, they were not sopaipillas. They were hard & crunchy like cinnamon pita chips. That was my first and last attempt since 1991.

Now that we have the Rock House, I’ve enjoyed cooking, baking, making, trying all sorts of things. So when I came across this sopaipilla recipe in In Style magazine, I clipped it. It’s been sitting in a drawer ever since. I mean, it looks delicious. But it also looks like a messy hassle. Look at the list of ingredients and all those steps in the instructions. Frying, too? Messy & bad for me and…ah, forget it.

Fast forward to today when I came across the recipe stuck in a drawer. “Hey, wait a second? Isn’t a sopaipilla basically just puffed pastry?!”

PUFFED PASTRY! AKA my new BFF and answer to all the world’s ills. Since discovering it a few months ago (Like I’m Chris Columbus or something. Heh. You’re welcome for The Americas, BTW!), I’ve used it for pot pies, egg soufflés, desserts, tarts, pizzas, you name it. If it came in queen-sized sheets, I would sleep with it like a down comforter. That’s how versatile and easy it is. How easy? I’M GONNA EAT IT LIKE A SOPAIPILLA!

If you don’t make your own dough, this is the hardest part: Bake the puff pastry, drizzle it with honey. DONE! Screw you Bobby Flay & your stupid, messy recipe!

Now, technically, that’s all a sopaipilla is, but I fancied it up a bit because when you get old the things that excited you when you were young only make you feel hopeless and empty and search for meaning in life. So I spiced it up a bit with sugar & cinnamon (which is how many folks eat their fritters & sopaipillas anyway. This was my first time.)

Sugar & Spice

INGREDIENTS:
1/3 of one sheet of Pepperidge Farm’s Puff Pastry Sheet (they owe me a % of profits based on how much I’ve been pimping them out!)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tspn ground cinnamon
Honey
Vanilla or Caramel Ice Cream (Because screw it. WHY NOT?! It’s my mom’s birthday! {Or whatever excuse you need to justify this delicious decision.})

Heat the oven to 400°F.  Cut the pastry sheet into 4 squares & bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown.

Place the sugar and cinnamon into a paper or plastic baggy and shake to combine.

Add the hot pastries to the bag and shake until coated with the sugar mixture. Drizzle the pastries with the honey or, if you have a squeeze bottle of honey, let the diners tear off a corner and squeeze away themselves. Serve yourself first, though, because they’re best hot and you deserve the best.

Add a dollop of ice cream to the plate and you have what I call Sugar & Spice and everything Nice Cream.

Dunking in Sugar & Spice Waiting for Pastry Bon Appetit!

Strawberry Napoleon

I discovered puff pastry! In search of a lighter, flakier and less processed pre-made dough for my Panera knock-off soufflés, I came across Pepperidge Farm’s puffed pastry sheets. So easy, so light and the come in two frozen sheets folded into three (so six total), so I can thaw just one sheet and not have to use a whole can of crescent roll dough.

Anyway, the photo of a dessert on the box caught my eye. The recipe for the image –a “Strawberry Napoleon”– was included on the side. I never used to pay attention to those but, really, wouldn’t the manufacturer know what recipes work best for their product? Seems logical, so I decided to try out the delicious looking pastry. I’ve made it five times now and have modified the directions to a simple, user-friendly, amateur-like-me version below.

Best part: When I use sugar free Jell-O & sugar free Cool Whip & skim milk, it’s really not even bad for me and satisfies a lot of cravings.

Here’s the result, inside (L) and out (R) and the recipe with instructions:

IMG_0599 Strawberry Napoleon

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 of a 17.3-ounce package Pepperidge Farm® Puff Pastry Sheets (1 sheet)
1 pkg. vanilla instant pudding mix
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream, whipped or 2 cups thawed frozen whipped topping
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen sliced strawberries (or blueberries, or both, or whatever. Go nuts! Or, actually, go fruity!)
A couple of squares of dark chocolate or Hershey’s Syrup [Optional]
Powdered sugar [Optional]

PASTRY DIRECTIONS:
Heat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet. [I actually line one with foil that I spray lightly with Pam.]

Take one of the sealed packs of pastry sheets from the freezer and let them defrost at room temperature for a minute or two. Basically, it’s one big sheet that’s been tri-folded and you want to crack it into three sheets at their natural fold.

Place the pastry strips onto the prepared baking sheets and let them defrost for about 20 minutes while your oven is heating up. I usually flip them once or twice.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Remove the pastries from the baking sheets and let cool on wire racks for 10 minutes.

Split the pastries into 2 layers, making 6 layers in all.

FILLING DIRECTIONS:
Prepare the pudding mix with 1 cup milk in a large bowl. [Don’t use two cups like the pudding package directions say! I use sugar free instant Jell-O.] Fold in the heavy or whipped cream which ever you chose*. Cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

*For vanilla pudding, I gotta say –in spite of the fat & calories– heavy cream is probably what I’ll do next time. I used sugar free Cool Whip and it was just too meh. No flavor at all. Maybe a drop of vanilla extract would help?

I’ve used chocolate pudding as filling once and used the sugar free Cool Whip in that instance and it was like a light mousse. It was enough flavor for me so I doubt I’ll try the fattier, heavy cream version.

Spread the filling into 1/2 of the split pastries, then pile on your strawberries and top with the other half of the split pastries.

Optional: Drizzle some melted dark chocolate or some Hershey’s syrup & sprinkle with some powdered sugar. This is easy and makes it look fancy but I’m not sure it adds much to the taste.

That’s it!

Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours.

NOTE: I’ve been pre-preparing the pudding mix and baking only 1/3 of the pastry since it’s just me or sometimes me & Christian. To make the full recipe is a dang lot of dessert. I save the rest of the pudding mix in a sealed container & make a warm pastry with fresh fruit whenever to mood strikes. Like now. When I typed this. YUMMMM. My keyboard is sticky now!

For easier slicing, refrigerate the Napoleons for a least 1 hour and use a wet serrated knife.

If you want the Pepperidge Farm version which includes icing made of confectioners’ sugar & stacking into two layers, check it out here. I tried the layers and it looked like a 2-yr-old snuck in before the party and tried a sampling of each and every piece. A huge mess. As for the icing, I’ve made it. It adds nothing to the flavor, IMO. Maybe I’m not good at making icing, but it’s not worth the calories or sugar for me. So I left it off of my ingredient’s list up top.

Pickled Pepper Relish

Found this yummy recipe via Oprah. It’s from Megan Johnson, chef at Casellula Cheese & Wine Café in NYC.

  • Relish2 cups Pepperoncini peppers
  • 1 cup cornichon pickles
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 tsp. red chili flakes
  • 1 tbsp. crisp white wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Throw all ingredients in a food processor and pulse / grind / chop / whatever till it’s the desired consistency. It has some KICK and was amazing on our burgers. I can’t stop thinking about it, so it’s a good thing I’ve got about a cup & a half left!

 

Extremely Thin Crust Pizza

My friend Jenn taught me that a tortilla makes for a great pizza crust. Using a multi-grain wrap makes it an even better choice. Using Pizzeria Uno’s cheap and healthy Mediterranean thin crust pizza as inspiration, I concocted this quick and easy dinner with tomato sauce, baby spinach, feta, Greek olives, and halved grape tomatoes.

UPDATED:
So some pals wanted more instruction. Okay, so put on more baby spinach than you think necessary…even more than you see below. It shrinks dramatically when cooked.

Yes, you can add onions and capers or anything else your heart desires. The cook time doesn’t really change.

I baked mine at 425 degrees for about 25 – 30 minutes. I wanted the tortilla crispy and the toppings hot. I ate it once after only about 15 minutes because I was starving & in a hurry. The tortilla was still very flexible so I was able to make it into a wrap. It was okay, but I prefer the crispy tortilla.

You can’t really go wrong unless you burn it which won’t happen if you’re paying attention. Set a timer if you’re prone to zoning out.

20130210-180432.jpg

Mexican Pasta Salad Recipe

Christian’s not into most vegetables, so I was looking for a side dish and found this one for Mexican Pasta Salad. We’re fans of anything with jalapeños, lime juice and cilantro so we gave it a shot and loved it. We ate it with grilled pork chops and a green salad covered in our homemade Ginger Carrot Dressing. Delicious! The next day we added some grilled chicken to the leftover pasta which made for a filling lunch.

Ingredients 
One box of spiral pasta (I use whole grain pasta)
2 cups frozen corn (or 2 ears of corn on cob)
2 jalapenos seeded and diced
2 scallions chopped
2 limes juiced
olive oil (to coat pasta)
1/4 cup Cilantro, chopped
1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
— Boil the pasta per directions on the box, drain and drizzle olive oil over the cooked pasta so it doesn’t stick together.

–While the pasta is boiling, roast the corn, jalapenos and scallion in a pan on medium heat with a tablespoon oil. Stir and cook until corn is golden. You’ll need a lid, because the corn pops! Fun!

— Add to large bowl: pasta, corn, jalapenos, scallions, beans, cilantro and juice of limes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

*Next time I’m going to add some halved grape cherry tomatoes and an extra jalapeño.

 

Quinoa & Black Bean Salad Recipe

Quinoa SaladServed hot or cold, this vegetarian salad is packed with protein and flavor:

Ingredients:
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup frozen corn kernels (optional…I’ve done with, with celery instead and without altogether)
2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions:
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic, and saute until lightly browned.

Mix quinoa into the saucepan and cover with chicken broth. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Stir frozen corn into the saucepan, and continue to simmer about 5 minutes until heated through. Mix in the black beans and cilantro.

Chow down on its own or as a side dish. Yummmmmmy!

A Chicken & Dumpling Recipe So Easy…

How easy it?

So easy even your 5-year-old could do it. For the busiest of bees or if you want to introduce cooking to your young ‘en or anyone with a fear of cooking, this is the recipe. It’s foolproof, easier than pie and mmm, mmm good!

IMG_0420

You just need a crockpot and the following ingredients:

1.5 lbs boneless/skinless chicken breast (is there any other kind?)
2 cans Cream of Chicken Soup (no water, just the regular condensed soup)
1 can chicken broth
2 cups frozen carrots/peas*
1 onion diced
2 tablespoons of butter
1 can of Pillsbury biscuits

Place the chicken, butter, soup, broth and onion in a slow cooker. Cover, and cook for 5 to 6 hours on Low. Then, about 90 minutes before serving, place the torn biscuit dough in the slow cooker. I dunk them and then about 45 minutes into cooking the dough, I dunk and stir them again. So, total cook time about 6.5 to 7.5 hours. If you don’t want to wait that long then, I’d cook it for about 3.5 hours on high then another hour or so for the dough.

Serve in a bowl on a cold winter’s day and let this stick-to-your-ribs meal warm you from the inside out!

*Optional, but definitely don’t bother with celery. I didn’t think it added to the flavor or texture and only watered down the meal.