Friday, July 29, 2011

Grown-Up Grilled Cheese: Avocado, Tomato and Bacon

I might be developing an avocado obsession. There's nothing wrong with that, right?

In searching the fridge for something for dinner, cheese stood out. I'm not sure why, but a grilled cheese sandwich just sounded so good. I still have some avocados left so I was trying to come up with a way to combine that with a grilled cheese sandwich. The classic with american cheese wouldn't do so I jazzed it up a bit with some mozzarella. It was still missing something though. It needed a little color so I thought tomatoes would be the perfect addition. And why not add some bacon? The salty, crunchiness would be a nice compliment to the smooth avocado. I threw it all on some multi-grain bread and grilled it up. End result = yum.

A Delightful Drink

I made my first smoothie today and I'm happy to report that it turned out to be pretty awesome. I had some strawberries that were starting to soften and thought I should use them up before they started to turn fuzzy and green. And since no one likes to eat a mushy strawberry, I decided I'm make my first smoothie with them. I also figured that my son would love one as a snack because he's never had one before. Well, he took about four sips before he got distracted with his Thomas the Tank Engine trains. Next thing I knew, smoothie was all over the table. I think we'll be banning trains from the kitchen...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

So Simple Avocado Salad

It's avocado season! I don't usually buy them but every once in a while, I splurge and treat myself to the creamy, greeny goodness. I wait until the price goes down so I can get a few though. They can be so darn expensive!

I purchased some small ones at the grocery store yesterday to use specifically in a salad that I was cookin' up in my head. Avocados are excellent on their own, but I was feeling creative so I had to do something different with them. Since I'm big into the whole salad thing this summer, I was thinking of something light and simple to go with the warm weather.

How to Cut an Avocado

Cutting an avocado may seem like a daunting task but it's actually quite easy if you're careful and take your time. I used to not bother because I thought it was a big ordeal, but I've found such a simple way that it only takes a couple minutes. And believe me, those couple minutes are definitely worth it for the wonderful taste that an avocado brings.

When using avocados for any recipe, be sure to pick ones that are dark in color and are slightly soft to the touch. If they are hard or still very green, stick them in a paper bag for a couple days to ripen. An avocado that isn't ready yet will be bitter and won't have the creaminess that makes them so good.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fun with Fajitas

Who doesn't love a good fajita now and then? Nobody, that's who! I dare you to find a person who hasn't enjoyed a yummy fajita at some point in their life. They're good with chicken or steak and you can even make them with just some veggies. I'm a fan of meat though so I definitely had to go that route. I've been craving some good fajitas for a bit now and decided to whip some up tonight. They are a fantastic dish that can turn a meal into a fun, little fiesta.

I'm one of those people who likes to use what they have on hand rather than go to the store to buy one or two specific items for just one meal. Well, usually. I guess there are exceptions to that rule, but this dinner was not one of them. Case in point: I didn't have any flank or skirt steak (which can get pretty expensive) so I improvised with some top round steak that I had in the freezer. It actually turned out to be really good and my son loved it! That's really what made this dinner worth it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Doctor's Orders

I feel like I got in trouble today. My son had his 2 and a half year check-up earlier and everything was tip-top as usual. He's a great kid and we're so lucky that he's healthy and always gets the A+ from the doctor, but my husband and I were told that we need to do a couple things.

The first thing the doctor wants us to do involves milk. My son loves milk. No, that doesn't quite cut it...he LOVES it with a bazillion capital letters times a million. It's become his routine to have a little bit of chocolate milk when he wakes up, a little plain milk around naptime, and little more plain milk after dinner. Because he's been so picky with eating, the doctor wants us to cut milk down to 1 cup per day. I realize now, after it's been five hours since his appointment, that the doctor probably thinks we're giving him more than we actually are, but I'm willing to comply if it means he'll eat better. A kid can only eat so much pizza, waffles and fruit, right? The outcome of this little experiment remains to be seen, but I'm willing to bet that cutting out one glass of milk won't make much difference because, well, I do have a two year old after all!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Super Smashers!

I'm always looking for interesting ways to incorporate food into toddler form. This basically translates to, "I need ideas for food that my kid will eat." He's still in his picky phase so I thought I'd create something with potatoes that could easily be picked up by little fingers in a fun way. A long time ago, I saw a recipe somewhere for a potato appetizer with rosemary and sea salt. It looked fantastic. I have no idea where I saw this recipe and I don't know why it popped into my head yesterday, but I decided to base mine off of that. Rosemary is a very strong herb so I knew I wasn't going to use it in my version. I wanted something hearty and fun for a little kid so I went with the standard bacon and cheese combo. I added a little onion for flavor and substance and they turned out great. I loved them, my husband loved them, and my son loved them until the picky kid in him took over. At least I got him to take a few bites!

Smashed Potatoes

  • 10 baby potatoes (red or gold)
  • 3 slices bacon

A Little Spinach, Anyone?

I love spinach. I love creamed spinach. It's a guilty pleasure of mine and I only make a couple times a year because, well, it's not the healthiest of dishes. But when I do make it, it's a big hit and there's usually not many leftovers. It's creamy and satisfying with a slight hint of crunch. Creamed spinach is a side dish that goes with pretty much any meat so give it a try with your next dinner.

Creamed Spinach

  • 1 1/2 lbs chopped spinach
  • 3 TB butter
  • 2 1/2 TB flour
  • 2 1/2 c milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Everyday Enchiladas

I have been so incredibly busy the past week that it seems like I haven't even had time to breathe! I've been working on some wedding invitations for a friend just about every day since Thursday and the only time I stop working is to prepare a meal, turn on a show for my son, or change his diaper. I met this friend yesterday to get some ribbon for the invitations and told her and her fiance about the enchiladas I made a few days ago. I made them different than I have in the past because I'm trying to cut down on a lot of carbs. I used to make them with rice but I completely left it out this time. Well, I was so impressed with these enchiladas that I just had to share them the first chance I had.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer Barley Salad

Today was pretty hot outside. It was one of those days when the air conditioning in the car wouldn't even get cool. I don't know about you, but on days like this, I'm not too keen on cooking. I especially don't want to use the oven!

Because of the heat, and the fact that we had a late lunch, I wanted something light for dinner. I also had some barley that had been sitting around for awhile and I really wanted to do something different with it. I had only ever used it in soup before and I knew there were so many other things to do with the cute, little grain that I wanted to explore some different culinary options.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Kitchen Gadgets: A Cut Above the Rest

I got a new kitchen toy the other day. It's something that I've been wanting for awhile but it just wasn't high enough on the priority list. Well, the time had finally come and I'm very excited to finally add it to my cooking routine. The new gadget? A mandoline! I did a lot of research to find the right one and it boiled down to three different brands. One was through eBay, one was at on online store, and the other was at Bed, Bath and Beyond. The place that won was the store that gives out those handy, little 20% off coupons. If you live around a Bed, Bath and Beyond, your mailbox has no doubt been hit by all their flyers and coupons to entice you to come in and buy stuff. Their ploys worked for me! Well, that and the fact that I'd have to pay a shipping cost with the other two places.  

My mandoline of choice is the OXO Good Grips V-Blade Mandoline Slicer. If you're interested in the details, you can check it out here: I used it for the first time yesterday and, of course, I had to slice up a potato.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

One of Life's Simple, Cheesy Pleasures

Grilled Cheese Sandwich - it's the perfect comfort food. It's subtle, buttery flavor brings you back to those childhood times of your mom making you lunch. It was an added bonus to get the tomato soup with it. That is one of my favorite meals of all time and I still eat it for lunch (or dinner) to this day. I do tend to jazz it up a bit these days when I'm in the mood though. Today was one of those days.

Grilled cheese sandwiches can be made with pretty much anything to make it your own or to add a bit of flair. I prefer to call these creations 'Grown-Up Grilled Cheese' because not many kids would eat them any other way but the classic. I've been known to make them with tomato and spinach with a touch of balsamic vinegar, loaded up with veggies, or with just a hint of another flavor like I did today. The added ingredient: apricot butter. I know you're probably thinking that sounds a little weird, but it adds a bit of sweetness that makes it a definite treat. And it's just so simple to put together! I'm always on the hunt for new and unusual food combinations that taste good and I'm happy to have found another one.

Apricot-Laced Grilled Cheese

2 slices wheat bread
1 slice american cheese
1 slice mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp apricot butter

1. Spread a thin layer of apricot butter on one slice of bread.
2. Layer on the cheeses and top with the other slice.
3. Cook in a pan sprayed with non-stick spray until cheese is melted and bread is toasty and golden.

A Berry BBQ Twist

I love blueberries and it's hard to stay away from them during the summer. They are so sweet and cute and great with everything from salads to desserts. I had an idea the other day to make a BBQ sauce using blueberries. It sounded like the perfect sauce to go on grilled chicken on a hot, summer day. I've never made a BBQ sauce using blueberries before but I love the challenge of something new so I researched a bit and then got started. After all the preparing and cooking, it turned out to be a thick, sweet, slightly spicy sauce that was a great compliment to the chicken.

Blueberry BBQ Sauce

2 TB butter
3 TB diced onion
2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 TB apple cider vinegar
1 TB white vinegar
3 TB brown sugar
3/4 c ketchup
1 TB honey
1/2 tsp chipotle pepper paste (I mashed a pepper in adobo sauce)
pinch of salt/pepper

1. Cook onion in butter over med heat until soft.
2. Add blueberries and cook for about five minutes until starting to soften.
3. Add remaining ingredients and simmer over medium-low heat for about a half hour (stir frequently and mash berries each time you stir), until thickened and cooked down a little.
4. Brush over grilled chicken during the last 5-7 minutes of grilling.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Zucchini Veggie Skillet

Looking for a quick and easy side dish with zucchini as the main ingredient? This one is stuffed with yummy goodness and is sure to please everyone. It also adds a little color to your plate while being super nutritious with all those veggies. Did you know that 1 cup of zucchini has almost as much potassium as 1 banana? They are also very low in calories so you can eat up a bunch without feeling guilty. Including red peppers in this dish also adds so many vitamins and health perks. They are naturally fat free and are full of antioxidants. And you can help keep that heart of yours healthy by eating onions. I love them and they add so much flavor to anything!

This side dish is very versatile so feel free to add your favorite veggies or whatever you have on hand!

Zucchini Veggie Skillet

1/4 onion sliced
1/2 red pepper sliced into matchsticks 
2 - 3 zucchini cut into matchsticks
1 TB butter or oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the zucchini.
2. Sprinkle a little bit of salt all over the pieces and set them in a colander to drain for about a half hour. 
3. In the meantime, slice up the onions and red peppers.
4. Cook the onion and red pepper over high heat in the butter or oil until heated and starting to soften.
5. Add the zucchini and stir often until it starts to soften and brown slightly, about 10 minutes.
6. Season with salt and pepper and serve!

I prefer a little bit of a crunch to the zucchini in this dish but if you'd like it a little softer, cook it for another 5 to 10 minutes over medium heat.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Poppin' out some 4th of July Cake Pops

The first thing that popped into my head (no pun intended) of what to make for our annual 4th of July bash was cake pops. I reserve them for special occasions since they take so long to make and this seemed like a good time to whip some up. This batch was my second time making them and I'm happy with how they turned out. I didn't go for anything cutesy this time like I did in my first attempt of Easter Cake Pops, I just went for straight-forward festive pops. I also made my own frosting to mix in since the store-bought ones are way too sweet for my liking. The recipe follows.

Along with the fun of making cake pops comes the dilemma of how to present them. This can pose a challenge when you don't want to spend much money. I had planned on having them set up on a sheet of styrofoam in the form of a flag but my stars weren't on sticks so that wasn't going to cut it. I even asked my dad (who can pretty much get anything you could ever need) to save me some scraps from work. After all the pops were complete, I had an idea that wouldn't cost me any money because I already had everything on hand. I took a flower pot, some blue and red tissue paper, and rubber cement (a must-have for any crafter) and created my 4th of July flower pot. Considering I didn't spend any money, it was perfect!

The first step to making some tasty cake pops is to gather everything together. You definitely don't want to run out of anything or stop in the middle to make something that you forgot.

You'll need:
1 box cake mix
about 1 1/2 cups frosting (my buttercream recipe is below. you can use store bought instead but I think it's too sweet)
lollipop sticks
styrofoam block
10 - 12 oz melting candy

Preparing and making the Cake Pops:

Buttercream Frosting:
4 cups confectioner's sugar
4 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Beat butter and vanilla in mixer using whisk attachment. Add sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing in between.
After all sugar has been incorporated, beat for a few minutes until fluffy.
This recipe will make 4 1/2 cups of frosting.

Cook cake according to directions on package in 13x9 inch pan. Allow to cool completely.
I usually make it the day before and let it cool overnight.

After the cake is cooled, crumble it into very small pieces.
Remove any hard edges or really dark areas. 

Mix about 1 1/2 cups of frosting into the cake crumbs with the back of a large spoon.
Add 1 cup first and then add the remaining a little at a time so the cake doesn't become too wet.
If it gets too moist, the balls won't stay formed. Be sure to mix it very thoroughly.

Roll spoonfuls of the mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls (or press into a cookie cutter like I did
with the stars) and place on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Chill the rolled balls
for about 15 minutes in the freezer or a couple hours in the refrigerator. Beware: if the cake balls
are too cold when the candy coating is applied, it will crack when they start to thaw.

In the meantime, melt the coating in a microwave safe bowl in 30 second increments until melted
and smooth. Use a bowl that isn't too wide so you'll get more depth for dipping. Take a lollipop
stick and dip it about 1/2 inch into the candy and stick it in the cake ball, making sure not to go
all the way through. With a swift motion, glide the cake ball through the candy coating with one turn
of the wrist. Allow to dry on the styrofoam block, being sure to leave about two inches between holes
so the cake doesn't touch.  Once dried, decorate and present them however you'd like. 

My finished display