Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cucumber Crush

Have you ever had a girl crush?  Ok ok … I know this sounds SUPER sketchy, but I promise it is MUCH more normal than it seems!  So please, allow me to explain by personal example. 

I first saw Brittney at Wheaton College outside of our dining hall on a summer day while walking to class.  I immediately noticed her cool California style and more importantly the fact that she has three star tattoos on the top of her foot clad in well-worn RAINBOW flip flops.  I secretly always admire people with cool, simple tattoos; mostly because I KIND of wish I was the type of person who could pull them off.  On that day, my girl crush on Brittney was born.  She only got cooler when I found out she was legitimately from California, rather than someone who simply tried to appear as though they were a West Coast native, played water polo, does things like triathlons (once again … things I envy but know I will NEVER … I mean NEVER do), wore white RAINBOWS for her wedding and even had an ice cream station as part of her dessert.  I mean COME ON … can I be any more envious … AN ICE CREAM BAR!  She even served some of the guests clad in a Vera Wang gown!  Oh and if any guys read this blog, she also has decorating themes involving the Nebraska Corn Huskers (ie multiple pictures of the stadium in her family room) and travels to her husband’s native state for every home game during the College Football Season.  Well, Brittney was several grades ahead of me, but by some twist of fate she married someone in my class who MZ interned with and they now live only a few streets from MZ and I!!!  YES … now we are actually friends!  Over the years we have dressed up as different renditions of Lady Gaga for Halloween (costumes that still live in infamy with MZ’s Fox Hunting Association … oh yeah … did I mention my roommate LEGIT fox hunts … more on this in future posts), celebrated birthdays by eating fabulous food … whether homemade or out and about, going on ski weekends in which we literally blew a speaker out of the wall during a sing along, celebrated weddings with the most perfectly hosted showers she catered through whole foods and Molly’s Cupcakes and rung in the New Year with her homemade champagne jello shots topped with pop rocks!  She is one of those people I admire, because she is SO comfortable in her own skin and always up for a good time … oh and has the most amazing clothes compliments of Lululemon!  I just can’t be in a bad mood when I’m with her.  Plus, she embraces my mantra of more food and more drink as the recipe for a perfect gathering and always knows the perfect bottle of wine to order no matter where you are out to eat.  So what does this have to do with cooking???  Well, on a recent trip home Brittney MAY have swung by some of her favorite wineries and MAY have ordered a few too many cases of wine.  And OF COURSE she had the perfect remedy to this situation when her husband said, “REALLY???”  She is hosting a girls’ night wine tasting event where all guests bring an appetizer and she pairs them with a wine.  (Now can you see why I have a girl crush on her?!?!) 

Now if I were to take my crush to the food world, I have a certain obsession with none other than CUCUMBERS!!!  You may think this odd, but it is the perfect vehicle to numerous tasty bites.  I use it in place of chips for things like salsa and guacamole, it adds the perfect crunch to many a sandwich and MZ taught me to use it in Hendricks and tonics instead of a lime!  So what other appetizers could I bring to Brittney’s FABULOUS event than ones incorporating my crushable vegetable?  (Plus I am sick of winter and snow and desiring tastes that remind me of summer.)  So when Maria and I put our heads together we came up with not one but two scrumptious options featuring our beloved cucumber … and let me tell you … neither disappointed!  The party is TONIGHT!!!!  So wish me luck as I debut these to a series of women with discerning palettes!
Shrimp Salad on Cucumber Slices
  • 3/4 lb cooked shrimp, peeled (weight after peeled)
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 tbsp red onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp light or fat free mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp fat free Greek yogurt
  • Goya Adobo seasoning
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 30 thin slices cucumber (about 1 large)
  • chopped chives for garnish

Combine shrimp, celery, onion, mayonnaise, yogurt, and season to taste with
adobo and pepper.
Arrange cucumbers on a platter, season with salt and top each slice with a heaping tablespoon of shrimp salad. Top with chopped chives for garnish.
Dill and Sundried Tomato Cucumber Rolls
  • 3 oz reduced fat or fat free cream cheese
  • 2 spoons crumble tomato basil feta cheese
  • 2 spoons plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, julienne cut
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 1 large cucumber
  • coarse salt
  • cracked black pepper
Slice the cucumbers very thinly. (I don't have a mandolin so I just used a standard peeler that you use to peel carrots, etc.  And I only cut myself once ... not too bad if I do say so myself!) Lay them out on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt to dry them out.

Combine softened cream cheese, crumbled tomato basil feta cheese, non-fat Greek yogurt, sun dried tomatoes (I MAY have added extra since I love the taste), some chopped fresh dill in a small bowl. Season with coarse salt and cracked black pepper. Stir well.

Blot the cucumbers one last time with a dry paper towel add about a teaspoon of filling. Add a sprig of fresh dill and an extra slice of sundried tomato. Then starting on the thinner side, roll the cucumber around the filling. Secure the seam with a toothpick that has been broken in half. (If you are feeling lazy just jam the whole darn toothpick in ... let's be honest, sometimes we just don't feel like breaking those things in half at the end of the day.)
Savor and ENJOY! 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Asian Coleslaw

I went through a serious coleslaw phase when I was pregnant with Danny. In particular I liked it piled on a turkey sandwich. Strange? Perhaps. Delicious. Absolutely.

I haven't met a slaw I don't like, but I'm particularly smitten with Asian Coleslaw. My mom used to make this when I was a kid, but I couldn't remember her exact recipe. So I turned to our trusty church cookbook. Apparently Asian Coleslaw is so popular among the congregation at Randall Church that there were two different recipes. I scoured the internet to clear things up, but that just added to my confusion...I found even more recipes for Asian Coleslaw. And none of them was the same!

I combined the best parts of four recipes to create the Asian Coleslaw below. Does that make it the best Asian Coleslaw of all time? I don't know, but it was dang good.

Asian Coleslaw

2 tablespoons butter
1 package Ramen noodles, crumbled into small pieces (Discard the flavor packet.)
3/4 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons canola oil
14 ounce coleslaw mix

Heat butter in a skillet over medium. Add Ramen noodles, almonds, and sesame seeds and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, until everything is fragrant and golden brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, whisk together sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, and canola oil until combined. Place coleslaw mix and cooled Ramen noodle mixture in a large bowl. Add dressing and stir until everything is evenly coated. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Friday, February 22, 2013


I have a sweet tooth. Nay...I have an entire sweet mouth. I'm always nosing around the house for a little treat after dinner. The husband has a weakness for Golden Oreos and Girl Scout cookies (Peanut Butter Patties, please), but I can usually pass up the store-bought stuff. Homemade baked goods, on the other hand. Oh, good golly. I have no self control.

These Carmelitas were my undoing.

Decadent oatmeal layers sandwich a swirl of golden caramel and rich chocolate chips. And I totally served them with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream. There may or may not have been hot fudge and whipped cream involved. I have no shame.

Adapted from Lulu the Baker

32 caramels, unwrapped (Like the square Kraft caramels.)*
1/2 cup heavy cream*
3/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Spray an 8" x 8" square baking dish with cooking spray and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small saucepan, combine caramels and heavy cream over medium low heat. Stir until smooth. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, flour, oats, and baking soda.

Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and sprinkle chocolate chips over the crust.

Pour the melted caramel over the chocolate chips. Crumble the remaining oat mixture over the caramel. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting into pieces and serving.

*Rumor has it you can use 1 1/4 cups store-bought caramel sauce in place of the melted caramels and heavy cream. I've never tested this out, but I'd love to know if anyone else has done it this way!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Spinach Lasagna Roll Ups

So here it goes everyone for my VERY first official post ... so please be kind! :)

Recently my lovely roommate and project manager extraordinaire of Zuber Haus (yes ... the 100% German friend who hails from Amana, Iowa has coined that phrase as the official moniker of her home) celebrated a birthday. When I asked what she would like to do for her birthday weekend she didn't skip a beat and not only had meals, but events AND work projects laid out for completion. (Anyone who knows MZ will not be the least bit surprised by this) ... the Birthday Weekend Itinerary went as follows ... in her own words OF COURSE:

Friday: 3pm parents arrive from Iowa. 4:15 take train home from work to meet them. 5:15 grocery shop and make a new recipe from pinterest 8:00 my brother, Harry's, Air Jam Contest Performance at Wheaton College Aside by Kate: I must insert here that anyone who attended a Christian college will understand that this constitutes as a "cool"/"fun" Friday night activity and I must also mention that MZ's brother, Harry, and his glee club crew dominated and came in first 9:00-9:30ish Linda's famous poppyseed bunt cake with french pudding topping

Saturday: 9:00am clear out kitchen to commence work project of silver honeycomb backsplash 10:00 parents arrive - mom applies additional white coat of paint to previous work project weekend of faux board and batten in guest room while dad preps brats and sauerkraut for Harry and his roommates, you and I go to Menards for supplies. 10:30 we start applying backsplash 12:30pm transport lunch and eat at Harry's house 1:30 back to work on backsplash and painting (hopefully mom moves to laundry room door paint application) 8:00 reservations at Schnitzel Platz to eat authentic German food, steins of beer, catching up in German with Chef Wolfgang and sing along with Hank and Bob (the Saturday polka band) Aside by Kate: Yes ... they wear lederhosen! It is true! This place really exists and I thought we might be asked to leave due to the volume of our table. I happen to be Irish and Swedish so I contribute mostly laughter. 

Yes ... that was my weekend! And just think ... I didn't even include Sunday! Well by the end I'd consider the birthday weekend a MAJOR success, one of the biggest triumphs being the recipe Maria discovered on PINTEREST for Spinach Lasagna Roll Ups topped with meat sauce. Not only is this a simple and delicious alternative to time intensive lasagna, but it's healthier with the addition of a massive bag of frozen spinach and less noodles (for the carb concerned).   It's also easy to make vegetarian by substituting meat with extra vegetables.  And for quick, easy meals just freeze in single serving tupperware containers to be heated up for a delicious work lunch or dinner throughout the week! 

Spinach Lasagna Roll Ups
Serves 9 (depending on how hungry your group is of course)

  • 9 lasagna noodles, cooked
  • 10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and completely drained
  • 15 oz fat free ricotta cheese - MZ requested we use fat free cottage cheese instead due to her aversion to ricotta - how could I refuse ... it was her birthday after all
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • salt and fresh pepper
  • 32 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 package lean ground beef, turkey or chicken
  • 1 diced onion
  • diced garlic to taste (feel free to use the jar variety - that's what I do for ease)
  • 9 tbsp (about 3 oz) part skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat a large skillet and saute garlic.  When you can start to smell the garlic aroma add the onion and cook until it begins to soften. Add ground meat and cook until browned.  Add sauce and season to taste.  I used some Italian Seasoning and Red Chili Flakes.

Combine spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, egg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Place a piece of wax paper on the counter and lay out lasagna noodles. Make sure noodles are dry. Take 1/3 cup of ricotta mixture and spread evenly over noodle. Roll carefully and place seam side down onto a 9 x 12 baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Repeat with remaining noodles.


Ladle sauce over the noodles in the baking dish and top each one with 1 tbsp mozzarella cheese. Put foil over baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, or until cheese melts. Makes 9 rolls.

To serve, ladle a little sauce on the plate and top with lasagna roll and ENJOY!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ginger Glazed Roast Carrots

We eat a lot of carrots at our house. It's because I always have them on hand. They stay fresh in the crisper for a long time, and they're delicious raw or cooked. Throw them in your lunchbox, use them to scoop up Spinach Dip or hummus, or roast them with some ginger...

Ginger Glazed Roast Carrots
Serves 4

1 pound carrots, sliced on the bias 1/4" thick
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the carrots on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with honey and olive oil. Sprinkle with ginger and salt and pepper to taste. Toss everything together until the carrots are evenly coated. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the carrots are crisp-tender and golden around the edges, stirring halfway through.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tangy Slow Cooker Pork with Onion Jam

My friend Amy requested more slow cooker recipes. So, Amy, this one's for you!! (In my mind I'm saying this from the stage like a rockstar. I'm wearing leather pants and lots of sequins. There are lasers and back-up dancers in hot pants. There may or may not be a streak of purple in my hair.)

Back to reality. Let's talk about crock pot cookin' for a minute. I always thought that you could "set it and forget it" when you used a slow cooker. No matter what protein you use. No matter what liquid you put in there. I have learned the hard way...THIS IS NOT TRUE. Some cuts of meat need a looooong time to cook. Like pot roast, for example. But other things can't just simmer away for 10 hours while you're at work. I have burned pork tenderloin and chicken breasts on numerous occasions. It's a bummer, but it's true.

You're thinking to yourself, "What should I do if I have to work from 9 to 5? How can I use my slow cooker for shorter periods of time? Tell me! Please!" Well, if you have a timer on your crock pot, by all means, use it. If you don't have one, I've heard that attaching a light switch timer works well, too. Then you can set your slow cooker to turn on at noon instead of 8:00 a.m. Let me know if you try it. Also, I'm not sure if this is legit or not, but I totally put things in the crock pot frozen or partially frozen. This works particularly well with chicken breasts.

What slow cooker tricks do you have? Please share!

Tangy Slow Cooker Pork with Onion Jam
Adapted from Eating Well
Serves: 8 (or more!)

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced*
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
12 ounces chili sauce
3 pounds pork loin roast
Pretzel rolls or your favorite rolls, for serving

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until they begin to soften, about 6 minutes. Stir in brown sugar and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the onions are very soft and golden, about 8 minutes longer. Add garlic, oregano, chipotle chili, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, for another minute until the spices are fragrant. Add vinegar and cook until the liquid is mostly evaporated, 1-2 minutes. Stir in chili sauce.

Place pork in your slow cooker and cover with the onion mixture. Cover and cook on low heat until the pork is cooked through, about 4 hours. Remove pork and shred or cut into bite-sized pieces. Stir pork back into the sauce or, if you have onion-averse people in your group, remove the onions from the sauce and then stir the pork back in. Serve the pork on rolls with plenty of onion jam piled on top (for the onion lovers, of course.)

*Feel free to use more or less chipotle chile depending on your spice tolerance. I'm pretty wimpy when it comes to spice, and one chile was perfect for me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Wednesdays have been quiet for too long. So I'm bringing in some fresh blood. A woman with unparalleled hostessing skills, the palate of a restaurant critic, and a wardrobe full of envy-inducing scores from TJ Maxx. She was there for most of the best moments of my life, from the time we did the Cupid Shuffle after Thanksgiving dinner to the birth of my son. She ripped the heads off my Barbies and taught me how to curl my hair. Yes, it is none other than my fabulous sister, Kate.

Today she answers a few questions...

Erin: How the heck are ya?!

Kate: Well if I was our mother I would say “Just Dandy!” … However, as much as I see myself slowly becoming more like her, I'll say I'm lovely … but cold … and currently with wet feet because I’ve been refusing to admit I live in Chicago and have been wearing five inch heels to trudge through the snow to my car in the morning!  

Erin: Wet feet, huh? While you are the more fashionable sister, at least I'm the warmer one. I don't think I've worn anything but Uggs since November. Moving on. What does "Hot Dinner Happy Home" mean to you?

Kate: It means to feel cozy, warm and taken care of. In a happy home you can be completely yourself and comfortable … be silly or crazy or in need of comfort. Growing up, and even now, home has been “what do you need in this instant … because we can make it happen.” And suddenly all feels right in the world. Even still whether my mom is visiting or I head home to Buffalo, she asks if she can get me anything and then covers me with a fleece blanket. If that’s not a hot-dinner-happy-home, I don’t know what is.

Erin: The image of a cozy fleece blanket is very "happy home." I like it. So, what can we look forward to hearing about in your posts?

Kate: Hmmm… I'm a single girl working 8-5 and living in the Chicago suburbs. I hope to incorporate some of my favorite things about cooking … relatively quick meals with simple ingredients. Often they are meals that can be eaten on the couch in front of Netflix or Hulu Plus. Also I love … no seriously LOVE going out to eat! And thank goodness Chicago has no shortage of fun, delicious restaurants!!! So I will definitely bring some of my favorite food destinations to the inter-web!

Erin: You always have the best restaurant recommendations. You've even been to cool places in Milwaukee before I have! Two-in-one: Name your favorite meal and cooking inspiration. Go!

Kate: Man this is tough!!! When I was little, it was chocolate chip pancakes and orange pop. While I feel like I can’t pick a favorite current meal, I would definitely say my inspiration has been PINTEREST! I am completely addicted, and it’s how I choose so many things I make (and even what to wear to work in the morning). Seriously, if you aren’t on it … JOIN NOW! And since it is real people, so many of the recipes are easy to make with ingredients you have!

Erin: Oh, Pinterest! You and I are both addicts. (Everyone should follow Kate on Pinterest, by the way. Her "Fashion" board makes me want to change out of my sweatpants.) I've already mentioned that you throw killer parties. Wanna share any of your hostess-with-the-mostess secrets?

Kate: Ok … I love love love hosting get togethers … from cooking a meal with one friend, to girls’ nights, to FULL-ON BASHES! There is no better feeling than people leaving your home satisfied with an event. (The ultimate success is when they have to leave the next morning… ha!) But what I’ve found that brings the most success is always having more food and more drinks than you think. People never want to go hungry or thirsty! Always keep things restocked … I feel like I’m constantly making sure bowls are refilled and glasses are topped off, and people definitely appreciate that extra mile. Also, I think good music is key! It is the perfect way to set the mood. And I am partial to party accessories. They make things fun and different. From necklaces to party hats to reindeer antler headbands to piƱatas, it just throws a fun twist!

Erin: Plus you really look cute in your antlers! Anything else we should know about you?

Kate: Geez I feel like I have already shared so much (can you tell I have a tendency to be verbose??)! I come from an amazing family (did I mention I have a fabulous sister who always has a delish recipe whenever I need help in the kitchen and killer Wii Just Dance skills ... yep that’s you happy homemaker!) and incredible friends. What seems to be central to so many of my good memories is food … whether in or out of the home. There is just something that makes you feel special and loved when you gather together. I love taking care of people and making them happy and providing a good time … it’s what life should be all about … making someone’s day better when they leave than when they came. Oh … and I also have a slight Bravo addiction. That’s it! Happy dining, everyone!

Erin: Welcome to the shenanigans, sister!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Glazed Acorn Squash

I love winter squash. It's rich and sweet like dessert, but it's a healthy vegetable. What's not to love?!

Typically I pop acorn squash in the microwave for a quick spin and the mush it up with a bit of brown sugar. It's easy. It's delicious. And I don't have to plan ahead to make it.

This time, though, I wanted to try baking it in the oven. I would actually have to think about dinner preparation before 6:00 p.m., but I was okay with that. It seemed very adult to roast something that I usually microwave. Like taking a Hot Pocket to the next level.

Glazed Acorn Squash
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Serves: 2

1 acorn squash
2 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon maple syrup
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In order to make the acorn squash easier to slice, microwave it for 2-3 minutes on high. Once it's softened up just a bit from the microwave, slice it in half through the stem. (I suppose that would be pole-to-pole as opposed to through the equator, if I were comparing it to the world.) Scoop out and discard the seeds and stringy bits. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil (for easy clean up), and place the acorn squash on the baking sheet cut-side up.

Schmear 1 teaspoon of butter on the cut side of each half. Then sprinkle each half with 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of maple syrup, and plenty of salt and pepper. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the squash is very tender when you pierce it with a fork. When you place the acorn squash on each person's plate, make sure you don't spill any of the molten buttery, sugary goodness!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pasta with Spicy Chicken Sausage and Spinach

Before my son was born, I went to the grocery store, oh, four, maybe five times a week. I'd just swing by on my way home from work. Easy peasy. Now? Not so much. I have to time said trip to the grocery store with nap time to avoid a meltdown in the checkout line. Then I have to carry my giant baby without wrenching my neck. Add in a diaper bag the size of a small car and attempting to navigate through the narrow's just not so easy any more. Needless to say, I don't swing by the grocery store nearly as often.

With my frequently empty fridge shelves, I have to get creative when I'm making dinner. Recently I uncovered some Italian chicken sausage buried in my freezer, a giant tub of spinach that was on its last legs, and plenty of pasta in my pantry. I was really hoping I had some sun-dried tomatoes, and I did! But they expired in August 2012. Mental note, clean out the fridge more often. Half an onion in the veggie drawer leftover from something. Garlic? And wine. Boom. Done. Dinner here we come.

The recipe below is what I made with my kitchen discoveries. I included substitutions, though, to help you get creative with what you have around the house. Use this recipe as a base, and clean out your cupboards! There's no need to go out in the cold to get groceries tonight.

Pasta with Spicy Chicken Sausage and Spinach
Serves: 4

2 cups short pasta (I used rotini, but any short pasta will do.)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 spicy Italian chicken sausages (Substitution ideas: chicken, canned white beans, ground beef)
1/2 onion, chopped
1/8 teaspoon granulated garlic (Substitution ideas: fresh garlic, obviously...I didn't have any.)
1/3 cup white wine (Substitution ideas: chicken or vegetable broth, water)
6 big handfuls of fresh baby spinach (Substitution ideas: frozen spinach, kale)
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (Substitution ideas: cream cheese, fontina cheese)

Cook pasta in lots of salted boiling water according to package directions. When it's finished cooking, save some of the pasta cooking water. Then drain your pasta and set it aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium high. Add the chicken sausage and cook until it's browned on all sides, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add about 1/4" of water to the skillet, reduce heat to low, cover, and allow the sausages to simmer until they're cooked through, about 12-15 minutes. Check on the water level once or twice to make sure it hasn't totally evaporated. If it's almost all gone, just add a bit more water. Once they're cooked, remove sausages and slice them into 1/4" thick pieces. Set them on a plate and cover to keep warm.

Dump any remaining water out of your skillet and add another 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until it's very soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic powder and cook for another 30 seconds. Stir in wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate all of that browned goodness into the sauce. Allow the wine to cook and reduce for 2-3 minutes.

Stir in the spinach and season with lots of salt and pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring often, until the spinach has cooked down and softened. Stir in reserved sausage and pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and add about 1/3 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water. Stir everything together. Taste it and add salt and pepper or additional Parmesan cheese if it needs more pizzazz. If it seems too dry, stir in a bit more pasta water. Serve with extra cheese on top.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Crisp Roasted Broccoli

Today let's eat broccoli. Roasted broccoli with crispy, caramelized bits around the edges. I think that's all I need to say about that.

Crisp Roasted Broccoli
Adapted from Ben and Birdy, but originally from America's Test Kitchen
Serves: 4

1 large head of broccoli
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Lemon pepper (Or use regular pepper if you don't have lemon pepper on hand.)

Move one of the oven racks to the lowest position. Place a large, rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack, and preheat oven to 500 degrees. (You want the baking sheet to get hot-hot-hot!)

Using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, remove the tough outer peel from the stem of the broccoli. Chop off the stem and slice it into long, 1/2" thick pieces. Slice the rest of the broccoli into florets. Place the broccoli into a bowl and drizzle with olive oil, sugar, and a hearty sprinkle of salt and lemon pepper. Use your hands to mix everything together thoroughly.

Once the oven reaches 500 degrees, take out the hot baking sheet and quickly (but carefully!) place the broccoli on it. Use tongs to separate the broccoli into a single layer. Bake until the broccoli is tender with crisp, brown edges, about 9 minutes.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Fried Chicken Tostadas

I realized recently that many of my recipes are the result of using up an overabundance of ingredients I purchased at Costco. When you buy 87 peaches or 3,000 pounds of quinoa for a family of two adults, you need to get creative.

Almost every time I go to Costco, I pick up a rotisserie chicken. Sometimes we eat it with mashed potatoes and veggies for dinner. Sometimes I slice it up for sandwiches during the week. Sometimes I chop or shred it into bite-sized pieces and toss it into the freezer to use in a recipe later.

Since I keep a supply of chopped-up chicken at the ready, I'm always looking for creative ways to use it up. The husband is a lover of all things fried, so instead of offering up enchiladas or chicken packets, I suggested we have tostadas for dinner. He was psyched.

This recipe is more of a guideline. If you don't have cooked chicken on hand, it's the perfect way to get rid of the remnants of a pot roast. Or skip the meat and season up a can of black beans instead. Make it your own based on what you have on hand.

Fried Chicken Tostadas

Cooked chicken (or pork or beef), chopped or shredded into bite-sized pieces
Chili powder (I swoon over Penzey's Chili 9000. Just my personal opinion.)
Shredded cheese
Refried beans
Sour cream
Vegetable oil
Flour tortillas
Chopped lettuce

Make sure all of your tostada components are ready to go before you fry up your tortillas. This way you can serve the tortillas when they're fresh and hot. I start with the chicken. Sprinkle the cooked chicken with chili powder to taste. Stir in about a teaspoon of water to make sure it doesn't dry out, and microwave the seasoned chicken until it's piping hot. Set aside.

Next I get the refried beans ready. My pal Therese taught me how to jazz up canned refried beans: simply stir in a spoonful of sour cream and then heat them up in the microwave. I don't have an exact ratio to share; it just depends on how creamy and tangy you want your beans. Just put a heaping spoonful in there and give it a taste. You can always add more.

Once that stuff is ready, pour about 1/2" of vegetable oil into a skillet over medium-high heat. Allow the oil to heat up for about two minutes. Test to see if it's hot enough by placing a tiny piece of tortilla in the hot oil. If bubbles form all around the tortilla and it starts to cook immediately, then it's ready. Gently place one tortilla into the oil and fry for 1-3 minutes on each side, until it puffs up a little bit and turns golden brown. The exact timing depends on how hot your oil is, so just keep an eye on it to make sure your tortilla doesn't burn. Place the fried tortilla on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Schmear each cooked tortilla with refried beans. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top of that, then add some chicken. Top with lettuce, sour cream, and salsa.