Monday, September 30, 2013

Bacon Braised Green Beans

I was stuck in a rut. A roasting rut.

I'd sit down to plan our meals for the week and think, think, think.

Monday: Meatloaf. With roasted carrots and parsnips!!
Tuesday: Leftover meatloaf. With roasted broccoli!!
Wednesday: Meatloaf sandwiches. With roasted sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts!!
Thursday: More leftover meatloaf. With roasted green beans!!
Friday: Takeout.

I wanted to roast every vegetable in sight. And who can blame me, really? Roasting vegetables brings out their natural sweetness and makes them utterly irresistable.

But I had to change things up. And what better way than adding bacon to the mix? That's right...Bacon Braised Green Beans.

I tend to prefer my veggies crisp-tender, but when they're braised, green beans beg to be tender. With the salty, savory crunch of bacon, this dish is every bit as exquisite as roasted green beans.

Bacon Braised Green Beans
Adapted from The Food Network
Serves: 4

3 slices bacon
1/2 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 pound green beans, ends trimmed
1/2 cup chicken broth
Salt and pepper

Cook bacon in a Dutch oven over medium heat until just crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Once it's cool enough to handle, crumble bacon and set aside. Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of bacon grease from the Dutch oven.

Add onion to the remaining 1 tablespoon bacon grease and cook over medium heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in green beans and chicken broth. Increase heat to medium high and bring broth to a boil. Cover and simmer for 6 minutes. Remove lid and allow broth to continue boiling for another 3-5 minutes, until green beans are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with reserved bacon and serve.

Friday, September 27, 2013

{Low Fat} Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Have you looked at Pinterest lately? It's like the entire website rolled in cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger and labeled itself Pumpkin Spice Pinterest. And Twitter? Uh...#pumpkinspice.

When Starbucks rolled out the Pumpkin Spice Latte this fall, they ushered in pumpkin themed deliciousness all over the world wide web. Well, I'm jumping right on that bandwagon. I was going to give these breakfast treats the unassuming title "Pumpkin Muffins," but no. They have spices in them, so I thereby declare them Pumpkin Spice Muffins.

I don't have the skills to paint my nails ombre, but this is the kind of trend I can get on board with.

{Low Fat} Pumpkin Spice Muffins
Adapted from this pumpkin bread recipe.
Makes 24 muffins

3 1/3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
4 egg whites
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup non-fat or low-fat plain yogurt
2/3 cup water
15 ounce can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

Cinnamon Sugar Topping:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. In a separate bowl, mix together granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, egg whites, oil, yogurt, water, and pumpkin puree. Gently stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until everything is incorporated. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full with batter.

In a small bowl, stir together sugar and cinnamon to make the topping. Generously sprinkle the muffin batter with cinnamon sugar mixture.

Bake muffins for 23-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove muffins to finish cooling on a rack.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lightened Up Curry Chicken Salad

We're nearing the end of September, and the kids have been in school for a while now. Those first few days back in the classroom are novel. New pencils, backpacks, and Trapper Keepers. ( kids these days still carry Trapper Keepers? Specifically, Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers with unicorns and rainbows? I can only hope.) And then there's the lunchbox. I was usually schlepping a paper sack, but one year I got a shiny, pink Popples lunchbox, and I felt like the coolest kid on the block.

Back-to-school is exciting for those of us who make lunches, too. We're all gung-ho, filling our Pinterest boards with bento boxes, sandwich sushi, and octopus hot dogs. But the thrill has worn off by now, and it's bologna on dry white bread with a bruised banana thrown in as an afterthought. Maybe a Swiss Cake Roll, courtesy of one of my favorite kitchen heroes, Little Debbie.

While there's nothing wrong with bologna (it's a regular request at our house), add a little life back to your lunches with Curry Chicken Salad. It starts with leftover chicken. Grab a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Serve it for dinner with mashed potatoes from a box, and chop up the leftovers for this salad. Then stir in crunchy celery, sweet grapes, and rich pecans. A simple dressing includes protein-packed Greek yogurt and a touch of warm spice from curry powder. Serve it as a sandwich, salad, or with crackers for scooping.

It's not a burrito wearing a pirate's eye patch, I think the kids will still like it.

Lightened Up Curry Chicken Salad
Serves: 4

2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 cup quartered grapes
1/2 cup chopped roasted pecans
4 tablespoons light mayonnaise
4 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
Salt and pepper
Bread, crackers, or lettuce for serving

Combine chicken, celery, grapes, and pecans in a bowl. In a separate small bowl whisk together mayonnaise, yogurt, curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir dressing into salad ingredients. Serve on bread or lettuce or with crackers.

Friday, September 20, 2013

(Make-Ahead) Chicken Pot Pie

Maybe it's because I'm a 31-year-old female, but my friends are having babies left and right. It's dreamy to snuggle all these little bundles of joy. And here's a secret about a new baby...if you want to meet him, offer to bring food. It works every time.

When the most recent addition joined our group, I decided to make chicken pot pie for the new parents. It's a pretty straight-forward recipe, but I had one conundrum. When you make chicken pot pie, putting the biscuit topping on hot filling helps ensure that the topping is cooked through. If I put the biscuits on cold filling, I was worried that the bottoms of the biscuits would be gummy and raw. And that's gross. So I partially baked the biscuits first.

Partially baking the biscuits worked great! I baked the them for 10 minutes, and allowed them to cool. Then I topped the cooked, cooled filling with the partially cooked biscuits and popped it into the fridge until it was time for dinner. Make Ahead Chicken Pot Pie was ready for action.

Next time a friend needs a meal, whip up Make Ahead Chicken Pot Pie. One recipe will fill an 8" x 8" dish for your pal and another for your family. Or it will make one really full 9" x 13" dish if you have a hungry crowd to feed.

(Make-Ahead) Chicken Pot Pie
Adapted from several America's Test Kitchen cookbooks
Serves 8-10

Biscuit Topping:
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk*, preferably at room temperature
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

3 tablespoons butter
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped finely
2 cups chopped carrots (about 3 medium carrots, but I used baby carrots.)
Salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup flour
3 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup half and half
2 bay leaves
6 chicken breasts, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
4 tablespoons melted butter, optional

Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk and butter. Gently stir wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until everything is just combined. (The dough will look a little shaggy.)

Divide dough into 12 balls. (It's ok if the dough doesn't stick together really well. Mine didn't and the biscuits turned out just fine.) If you're making the chicken pot pie for later, bake biscuits on prepared baking sheets for 10 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Biscuits will be pale, like in the picture below. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven (or other large pot) over medium heat. Add celery, onion, and carrots. Season with salt and pepper and saute until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook for a minute to get rid of the raw flour taste.

Add chicken broth and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate any flavorful brown bits into the sauce. Stir in half and half and bay leaves. Allow mixture to simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

Stir in chicken and continue to cook until chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and stir in peas. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour mixture into a 9" x 13" baking dish OR two 8" x 8" baking dishes.

If you're making chicken pot pie right away: Top hot filling with raw biscuit dough. If desired, brush biscuit dough with melted butter. Bake until the biscuits are golden and the filling is hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Allow the pot pie to rest for about 5 minutes before serving. Serve with extra butter for the biscuits.

If you're making chicken pot pie later: Top filling with partially cooked biscuits and refrigerate until you're ready to make dinner. At that point let the pot pie come to room temperature while the oven preheats to 425 degrees. If desired, brush partially cooked biscuits with melted butter. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until biscuits are golden brown and the filling is hot and bubbly. (Check on the biscuits partway through. If they're getting a bit too brown, tent with foil for the remaining baking time. I neglected to do that and my biscuits were a bit too brown, but they were still delicious.) Allow the pot pie to rest for about 5 minutes before serving. Serve with extra butter for the biscuits.

*Don't have buttermilk? Mix 1 cup milk and 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar and allow it to sit for about five minutes, until the milk looks a bit curdled. Replace buttermilk with the curdled milk mixture.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Quick Summer Pasta with Tomatoes and Basil

Saturday was September perfection. 70 degrees and sunny with a breeze just gentle enough to ruffle Danny's Dennis-the-Menace cowlick. So I strapped him in the stroller and headed to the farmers market. As we prowled through the produce, the bounty of summer beckoned. Sweet, juicy tomatoes glistened like rubies. Plump ears of corn arranged in neat piles. Tall carrots with green stems draped lazily over the tables.

I walked past the gourds and mini pumpkins. Next week, I told myself. Today? Today is still summer. I'm not ready to wish it away.

So join me for tonight's hot dinner. We're singing the swan song of summer, and it tastes delicious.

Quick Summer Pasta with Tomatoes and Basil
Serves: 3

8 ounces short pasta (like rotini or penne)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Two big handfuls of baby spinach
Salt and pepper
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving if desired
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Cook pasta in heavily salted water according to package directions for al dente. Once it's finished cooking, save a bit of cooking water for later, then drain pasta and set aside.

Meanwhile heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and allow them to cook for about a minute. Then add spinach and a hearty pinch of salt and pepper. Drizzle in a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water and stir until the spinach is wilted.

Stir in cooked pasta and Parmesan cheese. If the pasta seems too dry, drizzle in a few more tablespoons of pasta cooking water until the cheese melts and evenly coats the pasta. Stir in basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with extra Parmesan cheese if desired.

Friday, September 13, 2013

BLT Salad with Homemade Low Fat Ranch Dressing

I'm getting real with this post.

Real Life #1: I made this salad for dinner to use up a bunch of stuff in my fridge. There's nothin' like leftovers to force creativity!

Real Life #2: My intent was to make homemade croutons to put on this salad. You know, to represent the bread part of a BLT sandwich. But then the husband got home from work early, and we took our boy to swing at the park. Swinging trumps croutons every. single. time.

Real Life #3: I made seven pieces of bacon when I was prepping for this salad. I thought I'd use four pieces in the salad and three for a club sandwich the next day. I put all seven pieces in the salad. No regrets.

Real Life #4: I was pretty tempted to use bottled ranch dressing for this recipe, but making it from scratch made the salad extra special. The dressing took about ten minutes whip up, though, so if you don't have ten extra minutes, by all means, use the stuff from a bottle. I won't judge.

Real Life #5: The husband told me that for lunch at work, he's been ordering BLT sandwiches with cheese. I jumped right on that band wagon when I made this salad. I married him for his brains as much as his good looks.

BLT Salad with Homemade Low Fat Ranch Dressing
Dressing adapted from America's Test Kitchen
Serves: 2 as a main dish (with extra dressing)

1/8 cup buttermilk*
1/8 cup lowfat sour cream
1/8 cup light mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons water

Half a head of iceberg or Romaine lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces
7 pieces bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 cup halved grape tomatoes
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Freshly cracked black pepper

Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients except water. Whisk in 1-2 tablespoons water until dressing reaches your desired consistency.

Evenly divide lettuce, bacon, tomatoes, and cheese between two plates. Top with dressing and black pepper.

*Don't have buttermilk? Don't let that stop you. You can make your own buttermilk by mixing together 1 cup regular milk and 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar and allowing it to sit for about 5 minutes. You'll know it's ready when the milk thickens and looks a little bit curdled. (Since this recipe only calls for 1/8 cup buttermilk, just use 1/8 cup milk and a little less than 1/2 a teaspoon lemon juice/vinegar to make your own.)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Parmesan Roasted Zucchini

I live in Wisconsin where generous amounts of cheese are a matter of state pride. And let's get real here...everything tastes better smothered in cheese. So Parmesan Roasted Zucchini was natural for this cheesehead.

Roasting veggies always deepens their flavor. Top that with a deluge of Parmesan, and you have a show-stealing side dish. Hope you enjoy this one as much as I did!

P.S. In case you need even more inspiration, I shared a few ways to use up the zucchini taking over your gardens and farmers markets a couple weeks back. Check it out.

Parmesan Roasted Zucchini
Adapted from A Slice of Southern
Serves: 4

4 small zucchini, cut into 1" chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper for easy clean-up. (I didn't want to mess with Parmesan cheese sticking to my baking sheet.)

Place zucchini on prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Season generously with salt and pepper. Toss everything together until the zucchini is evenly coated.

Bake for 20 minutes. About halfway through, check the bottom of a couple slices of zucchini. If they're starting to get too brown, toss everything so it roasts evenly. Mine wasn't too brown, so I let it bake the whole 20 minutes without flipping it.

Serve zucchini with lots of extra Parmesan cheese grated on top.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Herb Roasted Potatoes

I was going to tell you that I don't like potatoes, but then I really sat down and thought about the humble spud. Baked potatoes are fantastic, french fries rock my face off, and I salivate like Pavlov's dog when I think about mashing them with a stick of butter and some cream.

And I really like Herb Roasted Potatoes, obviously, or I wouldn't be sharing them with you. Surrounded by the aroma of rosemary and thyme, they are soft and fluffy inside, while maintaining a crisp exterior. There's really something magical that happens when you roast a potato.

I guess I should let it be known: I do like potatoes.

Herb Roasted Potatoes

14 or so small red potatoes (about 2 pounds), cut into 1/2" pieces
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place potatoes, rosemary, and thyme on a very large, rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Toss everything together so the potatoes are evenly coated.

Bake for about 30 minutes, stirring halfway through, until potatoes are golden brown and crisp.