Monday, September 29, 2014

Bacon Cheeseburger Rice

I was in search of dinner inspiration last week, and I went old school. People, I busted out the church cookbook from 2001.

These are the recipes of my youth. The casseroles, the jello salads, the cakes eaten off Styrofoam plates in the church basement. Comfort food made by people who love you. The smile on my face grew wider as I flipped through each page. Yes, I was thinking about how good Bonnie's Poppy Seed Chicken Casserole is, but more than that, I was thinking about how good the people are.

The recipe I landed on was contributed by Amy, our fearless babysitter back in the 90's. She took us to the county fair and let us swim until we were pruney. We spent summers cruising in the backseat of her giant whale of a car, listening to Billy Joel's Greatest Hits. I could hear the opening strains of Piano Man whispering through my subconscious as I made Amy's Bacon Cheeseburger Rice.

This is fall-is-here comfort food at its finest. Quick, easy, and delicious, The husband and I couldn't stop eating it. I kept sneaking bites as I was cleaning up the dinner dishes. Truth. Bacon Cheeseburger Rice will be a regular on the menu rotation around here.

Thanks for a divine hot dinner, Amy. And thanks for being such a great babysitter.

Bacon Cheeseburger Rice
Serves: 4-6
Gently adapted from the Randall Memorial Baptist Church Cookbook

6 strips bacon
1 pound ground beef or ground turkey
Salt and pepper
1 3/4 cups water
2/3 cup barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 cups uncooked instant rice
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Once the bacon is cool enough to handle, crumble and set aside. Drain all but 1 tablespoon bacon grease from the pan and return to medium heat.

Add ground beef or turkey to reserved bacon grease and cook, stirring, until cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add water, barbecue sauce, mustard, and onion powder. Bring to a boil and stir in rice. Sprinkle with cheese. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with reserved bacon before serving.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pumpkin Black Bean Chili

According to both the calendar and the weather, fall is officially here. This means it's time to break out the cozy sweaters, the flannel sheets, and, perhaps most importantly, the crock pot.

The slow cooker totally makes me feel like Wonder Woman. Why, yes, I can pick up the dry cleaning, grocery shop, clean the bathroom, and defeat crime while dinner cooks away on my kitchen counter. No cape necessary, thank-you-very-much.

To help you channel your inner super hero, the folks at Red Gold Tomatoes are having a slow cooker bonanza over on their Facebook page. They are giving away two Crock-Pots each day until October 8. (That's a lot of slow cookers, people.) They're also featuring some tasty-looking recipes in case you're lacking dinner inspiration.

Speaking of dinner inspiration, puh-lease check out this Pumpkin Black Bean Chili. We usually consider pumpkin for sweets: pumpkin lattes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake. But don't put baby pumpkin in a corner. Try it out in a savory recipe, too. It adds delicious richness and depth.

Without further ado, let's get slow cooking. The world needs a few more super heroes.

Black Bean & Pumpkin Chili
Adapted from Red Gold Tomatoes
Serves: 10

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 pound ground turkey or chicken
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
2-3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5 ounce) can Red Gold Petite Diced Tomatoes with Lime Juice and Cilantro
1 (15 ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin
For serving: shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped avocado, tortilla chips (optional)

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and ground turkey. Cook, stirring occasionally, until turkey is cooked through, about 8 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chili powder, cumin, and coriander and cook for 1 minute to toast the spices. Stir in 2 cups chicken broth and scrape the bottom of the pan to incorporate any browned bits.

Transfer mixture to slow cooker. Add beans, tomatoes, and pumpkin and stir to combine. If the mixture looks too thick, stir in additional cup of chicken broth. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with your favorite chili toppings.

P.S. The kind people at Red Gold Tomatoes provided me with tomatoes to test this recipe, but the opinions are all mine. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Bread & Butter Pickles

Do you have a favorite type of pickle? I don't think I could choose just one. I love dill pickles on a burger or Cuban sandwich. Gherkins chopped up in my mother-in-law's potato salad. But the zesty cucs I eat most often are bread and butter. I pile those babies sky high on every sandwich that crosses my lunch plate. Turkey, ham, tuna; I don't discriminate. As long as every.single.bite includes the sweet crunch of bread and butter pickles, I'm happy.

Since I consume my body weight in pickles, I thought it might be wise—or at least fun—to try my hand at making my own. I wasn't about to bust out my canning equipment for this project, so I started reading recipes for refrigerator pickles. Here's the gist: Salt the cucumbers, cover them with a hot vinegar-sugar brine, let them sit in the fridge. Boom.

I waited the requisite 24 hours before taking my first bite. And I must admit, I was nervous. Even though these pickles were easy (seriously...really easy), I felt invested. I waited 24 hours to eat my creation. That's a lot of delayed gratification!

But, you guys, these things are delicious. Crunchy, tangy, sweet...good gracious. It is absolutely worth the minimal effort and 24 hours of patience to make your own pickles. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think.

Bread & Butter Pickles

4 pickling cucumbers*, sliced 1/4" thick
1/2 sweet onion, very thinly sliced (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

Toss together sliced cucumbers, onion, and salt. Cover and refrigerate for an hour and a half. Rinse thoroughly and drain. Place cucumbers and onion into canning jars or a non-reactive bowl.

Combine water, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, sugar, bay leaf, and spices in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Pour hot liquid over cucumbers and onions. Let stand at room temperature for an hour. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving. You can store the pickles in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

*Pickling cucumbers are also known as Kirby cucumbers. They're smaller than the standard cucs you slice up for salads, usually less than 6". If you can't find Kirby cucumbers, just use whatever kind you can track down at the grocery store.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cheesy Baked Pasta with Chicken

Is it just me or is the hour leading up to dinner the most insane part of the day? This is how it looks at my house:

I paw frantically through the cupboards while I wait for a genius meal idea to dawn on me. So far, the front runners are Eggos, Lucky Charms, and ice cream. I'm leaning toward ice cream. Danny decides that although he is 2 years old, he needs to be held while I make dinner. Either I acquiesce and cook (pull out cereal bowls) one-handed or drag him around the kitchen while he hangs on my leg and howls. I pray fervently that the husband will be home early from work. (He won't be.)

Danny is tired, hungry, and cranky. The husband is tired, hungry, and cranky. I am very tired, very hungry, and very cranky.

This is not the time to slay dragons. This is the time to pull a casserole out of the fridge and pop it in the oven. Then you can snuggle with your kid while he watches Thomas the Train. Or read In Touch Weekly. Or have a glass of wine. Or all of the above.

That's why we're making Creamy Baked Pasta with Chicken. Sure it's delicious and cheesy and even healthy, but my favorite part? You can make it ahead of time.

Now about that glass of wine...

Cheesy Baked Pasta with Chicken
Adapted from Gimme Some Oven and this Bacon Mac & Cheese
Serves: 4-6

8 ounces whole wheat penne (or your favorite short pasta)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup milk
3/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Big pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9" square baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.

Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute to get rid of the raw taste. Very slowly whisk in broth and milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce thickens a bit, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in mozzarella and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Stir cooked pasta and chicken into sauce. Pour into prepared baking dish and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until pasta and cheese are golden.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

It has been too long. WAY too long.

I have no good or even interesting explanation for why I haven't posted a recipe for six months. Six long, long months. We moved from Milwaukee to North Carolina and in the midst of packing and unpacking every piece of junk we had acquired in our ten years in the great middle west, I just didn't feel like cooking.

So I didn't.

But I'm back in the kitchen now! And I'm baking zucchini bread. In my humble opinion, this is the best way to use up a bumper crop of zucchini. Don't have a green thumb? Well, you're in good company. Just pick some up at the farmer's market, swing by the grocery store, or, if you're feeling sneaky, slip into your neighbor's backyard under the cover of darkness and pilfer some of theirs. Your secret's safe with me.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread
Makes 2 loaves

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 egg whites
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9" x 5" loaf pans and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, wheat flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together egg, egg whites, brown sugar, granulated sugar, oil, applesauce, and vanilla. Stir in zucchini. Stir in dry ingredients and chocolate chips.

Evenly divide batter between prepared loaf pans. Bake in preheated oven for about 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.