Friday, March 30, 2012

Chicken Packets

We're kickin' it old school today. When the husband and I first got hitched a hundred years ago, I didn't know how to cook anything. Grilled cheese was a high class meal. (Wait. It still is. Anyway...) My BFF from high school came to the rescue when she shared one of her favorite simple dinner recipes with me, Chicken Packets. These cheesy bundles of goodness quickly became one of our favorite dinners, too.

Chicken Packets are quick and easy to prepare, and they reheat wonderfully. They are also the perfect way to use up leftover chicken. For example, this time around the husband and I had some rotisserie chicken to get rid of, and I couldn't smuggle any more leftovers disguised as sandwiches in his lunchbox.

Now that I shared my blast from the past, what was your favorite recipe when you started cooking?

Chicken Packets
From: Karisa
Makes 4 large packets

2 cups chopped (or ground) cooked chicken
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1-2 tablespoons milk
Salt and pepper
1 package crescent roll dough*
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4-1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs (If you only have plain breadcrumbs on hand, just season with salt and pepper. That's what I usually do.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix together chicken, cream cheese, chives, and enough milk to make the mixture stir-able. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Unroll crescent rolls and pinch edges of two triangles together to form one rectangle. Repeat with remaining crescent rolls so you have four rectangles.

Evenly divide chicken mixture between rectangles.

Pinch the edges together to seal. (Don't worry if the edges start coming apart. Just pinch them back together until they stick.) Place packets on a cookie sheet. Brush melted butter on top of packets. Sprinkle with bread crumbs.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. 

*I always make four large Chicken Packets, but Karisa's original recipe recommends using two packages of crescent roll dough and dividing the mixture into eight packets. I guess I like my packets really chock full of stuffing.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cranberry Pecan Couscous

Last week, the husband and I had some friends over to eat dinner and watch Bering Sea Gold. Do you watch any of those gold shows? I have to admit, I'm a little addicted to Gold Rush. My favorite character is John Schnabel. He's this 91-year-old miner up in Alaska, and he's got so much pizzazz! I mean, he's out there on the claim, riding in the heavy machinery with his 17-year-old grandson. When I'm 91, I'm gonna be playing Bunko. And that's on a good day. Most days I'll be eating split pea soup in the cafeteria of my nursing home.

I think that's enough about my obsessions with the Discovery Channel. You people come for the food, not the television commentary.

We needed nourishment before our big night of Bering Sea Gold. The boys grilled burgers, and the ladies threw together a couple side dishes. Cranberry Pecan Couscous was an experiment I tested out on our guests. It was perfect for weeknight entertaining because it was fast and used ingredients I had on hand. After dinner we voted and decided that it was a blog-worthy recipe. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Cranberry Pecan Couscous
Serves: 4-6

1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 (7.6 ounce) box plain couscous
1/3 cup dried cranberries
Zest from half an orange
1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Bring broth and water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Stir in couscous, cover, and remove from the heat. Let the couscous sit for 5 minutes, then fluff it with a fork. Stir in cranberries, orange zest, pecans, basil, orange juice, and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Overnight Oats

I've seen references to a mysterious breakfast dish called "Overnight Oats" surfacing all over the internet recently. I love oatmeal...Baked Oatmeal, Creamy Oatmeal, Irish Oatmeal. Why hadn't I ever tried these Overnight Oats? It was high time.

After reading about 500 recipes (ok, maybe that's a slight exaggeration), I realized that you can really make Overnight Oats any way you want. The main idea is this: 1) Combine oats and liquid. 2) Let it sit overnight. 3) Eat it.

One thing you probably should note, though, is the recipe calls for old-fashioned oats. Although I didn't try any other variety, I imagine that quick-cooking oats would get really mushy and steel-cut oats wouldn't soften enough. But old-fashioned oats are juuuuust right.

The fun part of Overnight Oats is the toppings. It's like the breakfast version of the frozen yogurt shops where you can stir in anything your little heart desires to jazz up your treat. I'll share my favorite below, but just consider the possibilities: bananas, peanut butter, cinnamon, honey, nuts, berries, coconut, dried fruit, maple syrup, cocoa powder...The sky is the limit.

Have you made Overnight Oats before? What do you add in to give it your own personal flair?

P.S. Hope you enjoy the action shot of my Overnight Oats. I had to take this photo with my phone because I eat breakfast at work. It would be weird if I busted out my camera at my desk and started taking pictures of my food. People might stare.

Overnight Oats
Serves: 1

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
2/3 cup sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons sliced almonds

Stir together oats, yogurt, and milk.

Cover and refrigerate overnight. When you're ready for breakfast, top with brown sugar, strawberries, and sliced almonds.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Succotash with Green Beans

Do you know what succotash is? If you asked me this question a few days ago, I would have said, "What? Like 'suffering succotash'? That's what Sylvester the cat says on Looney Tunes."

Turns out succotash is also a vegetable dish.

According to Wikipedia (my trusted source for all essential information), succotash is "a food dish consisting primarily of corn and lima beans and other shell beans." Since most of the ingredients are pretty cheap, succotash was popular during the Great Depression. Well, folks back then ate pretty well despite the dire circumstances of their bank accounts. Succotash is good!

I stumbled on a recipe for this delectable side when I was combing for a new way to use green beans. Although green beans are not corn or lima beans or other shell beans, I'm glad my search resulted in this recipe. The husband and I gulped it down like it was going out of style.

And neither of us suffered. Not one bit.

Succotash with Green Beans
Adapted from
Serves: 4-6

8 ounces green beans, ends trimmed and halved
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 cup frozen lima beans, thawed
1 cup corn kernels*
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
Salt and pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add green beans and cook for 4 minutes, until crisp-tender. Immediately plunge the green beans into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

Heat butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add green beans and saute 1 minute. Add lima beans and corn and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in Old Bay. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

*Since it's March, I just used frozen corn that I'd thawed. But I can just imaging how delicious it would be in August with corn cut straight from the cob.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring has sprung.

Spring is officially here, and Milwaukee is celebrating with weather like I've never seen in March. It is hot. Not warm. I'm talking 84 degrees hot. In March! I am loving it.

This summer-like weather has me dreaming of farmers' markets and a pot of fresh herbs on my back porch, popsicles and drippy ice cream cones, corn on the cob and steak on the barbecue. In case you're not in the mood for summer yet, let's see if these can whet your whistle:

Goat Cheese & Tomato Sandwiches

Beer Marinated Flank Steak

Therese's Corn & Tomato Salad

Lamb Kabobs

Grilled Corn on the Cob

Lime Cilantro Marinade

Homemade Ice Cream with Jake's Famous Hot Fudge

So, how about you?  What summer foods are you waiting for?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Roasted Spaghetti Squash

I love squash of all kinds. Wait. Let me rephrase that. I love winter squash of all kinds. Zucchini is ok, but the hard-shelled variety is my true vegetable crush.

I've posted Butternut Squash Soup, Easy Acorn Squash, and Buttercup Squash. But it has been years since a spaghetti squash has graced our dining table. And since the season for winter squash is quickly coming to an end, I thought it was high time that I made some.

Spaghetti squash tastes more mild than butternut, acorn, or buttercup. But it is delicious in it's own way. I discovered that plenty of salt and pepper help enhance it's flavor, so be generous.

I start by cooking the squash in the microwave for two reasons. First, I'm always trying to finish dinner quickly because I'm starving. Microwaving the squash shaves off time in the oven. Second, it's pretty stinkin' hard to cut a spaghetti squash in half. Once it's cooked a bit, it's slightly easier to slice. If you have plenty of time and plenty of muscles, skip the microwave and simply cook it longer in the oven.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash
Serves: 6

1 large (about 4 pounds) spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Plenty of salt and pepper
Optional: Parmesan cheese for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Meanwhile, poke a few holes in your squash with a sharp knife and microwave for 7 minutes, flipping it over halfway. Once the squash is cool enough to handle, slice it in half lengthwise with a very sharp knife. Use a spoon to remove the seeds and stringy, fibrous stuff.

Line a rimmed baking sheet or dish with parchment paper for easy clean-up. Spread olive oil evenly on the cut sides of each half of the squash. Sprinkle with brown sugar and plenty of salt and pepper.

Place squash cut-side down on the baking sheet. Roast in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, until you can pierce the squash easily with a knife.

Scrape squash with a fork to create noodle-like strands. Place in a serving bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. If desired, serve spaghetti squash with Parmesan cheese.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Leftovers: Thai Peanut Pork Lettuce Wraps

Did you like the Slow Cooker Thai Peanut Pork we made on Wednesday? Well, I hope you made extra because you're going to love this leftover remix.

Thai Peanut Pork Lettuce Wraps
Serves 3-4

2 cups leftover Thai Peanut Pork
1/2 cup diced water chestnuts (about half of a 5-ounce can), optional
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
10-12 large lettuce leaves from a head of iceberg or butter lettuce
1.5 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup very, very thinly sliced red pepper
1 cup chow mein noodles
1/2 cup hoisin sauce

Stir water chestnuts into leftover Thai Peanut Pork and reheat for in the microwave until warmed through. Stir in lime juice and cilantro. Let everyone build their own lettuce wraps by piling rice, pork, red pepper, chow mein noodles, and hoisin sauce into a lettuce leaf. Serve with plenty of napkins...this one is as messy as it is delicious!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Slow Cooker Thai Peanut Pork

I've discussed many of my cooking fears. Today I'm going to share one of my cooking pet peeves: overcooking things in the crock pot. In my mind, the crock pot should be fool-proof. I want to set it and forget it. I want to leave that sucker bubbling for 12 hours and come home to perfectly tender meat. In reality, this ain't how it works in my kitchen.

Last year, I conquered beef pot roast in the slow cooker. But cooking pork in my crock pot has remained elusive. It's dry. Dry, dry, dry. Now, I should mention that I've always been using pork loin roast. I recognize that this is a leaner cut of meat and that other chunks of pork are more appropriate for my slow cooker. But I'm stubborn, you see. I couldn't leave well enough alone until I'd successfully cooked a pork loin roast.

This weekend, I finally did it. I cooked a delicious pork-based dinner in my handy-dandy crock pot. The clouds parted. Angels sang. I stuffed my face.

Slow Cooker Thai Peanut Pork
Serves: 6-8

2-3 pounds pork loin roast
1/2 cup teriyaki sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on your spice tolerance)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon minced crystallized ginger (optional)
2-3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon lime juice
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Cooked rice, for serving
Lime wedges, for serving
Chopped peanuts, for serving

Place pork, teriyaki sauce, rice vinegar, red pepper flakes, chicken broth, and ginger in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for about 4-5 hours or high for about 2-3 hours. (The pork should reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees in order to be cooked through.)

Remove pork and shred it using two forks. Stir peanut butter and lime juice into the remaining cooking liquid in the slow cooker until well combined. Stir shredded pork back into the slow cooker. Keep warm on low heat until you're ready to serve.

Sprinkle pork with cilantro and serve over rice. Top each serving with chopped peanuts and an extra lime wedge.

Monday, March 12, 2012

California Food Tour

The husband and I recently returned from a getaway to the west coast. We had had enough of winter, and it was time for some Southern California sunshine. Here's a little photo diary of a few of our food adventures in the Los Angeles area...

Euro Pane Bakery, Pasadena
I wanted to try every single item in the display case at this bakery. I snagged this piece of almond toast to eat in the car on our way to see Conan O'Brien. One of the most delicious car breakfasts on record. 

The owner of this little cafe was a gem. She was sassy and funny and made a darn good sandwich. I'd go back just because of her. No, I'll be honest...I'd go back for another goat cheese sandwich. Rosemary bread, a generous schmear of goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and a drizzle of balsamic sauce. So simple, but oh-so-good.

Donut muffin. DONUT MUFFIN. Two of the most awesome breakfast foods combined into one. Well, I obviously couldn't pass that up. And they make a mean cup of tea at this little shop. They steep it for you so it's just right. You don't have to worry about forgetting the tea bag and turning your lovely mug of English Breakfast into bitter sludge. Oh, no. They have a timer, and they do all the dirty work for you. Which leaves you more time to enjoy your donut muffin.

Le Pain Du Jour, Santa Monica
An almond croissant is really one of the most lovely ways to start the day. When it's perfectly tender, perfectly flaky, and perfectly sweet all at once, well, then I'm just over the moon. If you're in Santa Monica, please drop by this out-of-the-way storefront and snag one of their almond croissants. Your tastebuds will thank you.

After strolling the beach in Santa Monica all day, the husband and I dragged our sun-burned selves to this fabulous deli. First I'd like to mention how much I love delis: I love delis. And Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery was as delightful as I'd hoped. I should warn you, though, this place is bonkers. Bodies are packed three-deep around the deli counter, waiting to order their favorite sandwich or salad. You grab a number and make your husband wait in line while you wander the store admiring their gourmet crackers, olives, and cheese. Even their pop (ok, soda) selection is fascinating. When it was time to order, I told the friendly fellow behind the counter that I wanted a sandwich with prosciutto. "What do you want on it?" "Uhhh," I hesitated. "You want me to recommend something?" "DEFINITELY." So he made me a Don Corenzo. Apparently, this is like a caprese salad on a sandwich with prosciutto piled on top just to rock your face off. Oh, Don Corenzo. You've got it goin' on. 

Yogurtland, Santa Barbara
This place is great. You fill your own gigantic bowl full of frozen yogurt, then ladle on as many toppings as you can handle. You pay according to the weight of your creation. I've been to several fro-yo places with the same business model, but Yogurtland seemed more reasonably priced than all the others. After the husband and I weighed up our mountainous creations (mine towering with cookie dough and peanut butter cups, his, admirably, with fruit), I was expecting a bill of $12. Seriously. When the total was only $8, I almost loaded on more toppings!

Blenders in the Grass, Santa Barbara
In Milwaukee we specialize in things like frozen custard, butterburgers, and bratwurst. I can't think of a single smoothie shop around. Suffice to say, sipping a Tropical Mango Smoothie in the sunshine made my day. Maybe my year.

Mac's Fish & Chip Shop, Santa Barbara
While the husband enjoyed the crispy fish and chips Mac's had to offer, I was more interested in something else on their menu: Mushy Peas. Yep, that's what it says on the menu. "MUSHY PEAS." How could I not try something called "Mushy Peas"? I asked the fellow behind the counter to explain this side dish. "It's like pea soup, but thicker." And it was. Exactly like pea soup. But thicker. Delicious. Why doesn't every restaurant serve Mushy Peas? Oh, I know. Probably because they're called Mushy Peas. 

So, now it's your turn. What's your favorite California eatery? I'll add it to my list to try next time. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Low-Fat Honey Mustard Dressing

I love salads, but sometimes I get bored of the usual dressing options. I'm always switching between Ranch (my favorite is Bolthouse Farms) and vinaigrette, Ranch and vinaigrette. Lame.

When Jill came over for Macaroni & Cheese the other day, I decided to try something new. A quick Google search uncovered a plethora of recipes for honey mustard dressing. "Oooh," I thought. "That is neither Ranch nor vinaigrette." 

And for an added bonus, this dressing is off-the-hook easy. Seriously, it'll be ready in 2 minutes. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Low-Fat Honey Mustard Dressing
Adapted from
Serves: 4

2 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain yogurt (If you don't have plain yogurt on hand, just use 2 more tablespoons of mayo instead.)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine mayonnaise, yogurt, honey, and lemon juice until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over your favorite greens. 

P.S. As I was typing this up, I realized that Honey Mustard Dressing would be an unbelievable dipping sauce for chicken tenders. Now my wheels are really spinning. Chicken tender salad, anyone?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Ladybugs on a Log

It's a Wednesday snack attack!

Who wants boring old Ants on a Log when you can have Ladybugs on a Log? I know my answer.

Ladybugs on a Log
Serves: 2

8 celery sticks
2-3 tablespoons peanut butter
Handful of dried cranberries

Evenly divide peanut butter between celery sticks. Place 3-4 dried cranberries (ladybugs) on top of the peanut butter on each celery stick.

Smile because you're an adult, and you're still eating Ladybugs on a Log!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Reduced-Fat Macaroni & Cheese

I had a real hankerin' for a hearty pasta dish that would stick to my ribs and warm my soul. So when Jill came over for girls' night last week, Macaroni & Cheese seemed like the perfect choice.

This version is everything I hoped for: carby and cheesy with a crunchy crust. The sauteed onion and Dijon mustard add a grown-up feel to this childhood classic. Although, I guess that means if you're making this Mac & Cheese for actual children, you may want to leave out the onion.

Reduced-Fat Macaroni & Cheese
Adapted from
Serves: about 6

12 ounces your favorite short pasta (I used rotini, but cavatappi is my favorite for mac & cheese. Elbows, of course, are the classic choice.)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup very finely minced onion
2 cups milk (I used 1%.)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1.5 tablespoons Dijon mustard
8 ounces shredded 2% reduced-fat cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions until al dente.

In an oven-safe Dutch oven*, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour and cook about one minute to get rid of the raw flour taste. (It's ok if your flour mixture clumps up.) Stir in onion and cook until softened and translucent, about 3-4 more minutes. Whisk in milk and chicken broth, making sure there are no more lumps of flour. Raise heat to medium-high and continue whisking until mixture comes to a boil and is smooth and thick, about 5 minutes. Stir in Dijon mustard.

Turn off heat and stir in shredded cheddar. Keep stirring until cheese is melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in cooked pasta until evenly coated with sauce.

Sprinkle Panko breadcrumbs and Parmesan on top of pasta. Bake for 15-20 minutes until breadcrumbs and cheese are golden.

*If you don't have an oven-safe Dutch oven, transfer the macaroni & cheese to a baking dish before cooking in the oven. I prefer to use the same pot I cooked the sauce in because that's one less dish I need to wash.

Friday, March 2, 2012


Last night was what my mother would call "Potpourri Night" at our house. We had a fridge full of leftovers to eat up, so our evening meal consisted of a little of this and a little of that. The main event for my husband and his pal, Ryan, was a hearty pile of nachos, the perfect disguise for leftover odds and ends.

The nacho building went a something like this:

Mostly crunched tortilla chips made up the ideal base layer.

Refried beans? Definitely.

Leftover rotisserie chicken found a new life when I added a few shakes of chili powder.

A hearty pile of shredded cheddar was the crowning jewel.

And after the house was filled with the fragrant perfume of nachos straight from the oven, a dollop of sour cream and salsa really gilded the lily.

As you can tell, these nachos were designed to use up the leftovers in our fridge. But please customize them to your palate and pantry. You've got a can of black beans languishing on your shelf? Just mash them up with a fork and, if your feeling wild, throw in a dash of cumin and chili powder, and substitute black bean for the refried beans. Say you've got a hunk of pot roast a day away from the compost pile. That's a perfect stand-in for the chicken if you shred it up into bite-sized bits. Just use what you have on hand, and I bet you'll be pleasantly surprised with the delicious results.

Chicken and Bean Nachos
Serves: 2-3 hungry dudes

2 cups shredded or cubed chicken
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 cup refried beans
1/4 cup sour cream, plus extra for serving
6 cups tortilla chips
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Salsa, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine chicken and chili powder. Heat in the microwave until warmed through, about 2 minutes on medium-high.

In a separate bowl, stir together refried beans and sour cream. Heat in the microwave until warmed through, about 2 minutes on high.

In a baking dish (mine was 9" square), layer half the chips. Spoon half the beans and half the chicken over the chips. Sprinkle with half the cheese.

Repeat with remaining chips, beans, chicken, and cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, until everything is warmed through and cheese is melted. Serve with extra sour cream and salsa.

Note: If you don't want to warm up the chicken and the beans in the microwave, just bake it longer in the oven to ensure everything is warmed all the way through.