Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mexican Stuffed Shells

I happened to find this recipe while scrolling through Pinterest one afternoon, which unfortunately has become a major hobby of mine this summer.  I say unfortunately because it can sadly be very addicting.  Even when I go to the site to just pull up one recipe that I've previously pinned, and want to make, I somehow seem to stumble upon many more delicious looking recipes.  At the rate I'm going, even if I were to cook something every day over my vacation, I still wouldn't be able to make everything that I've pinned; it's crazy.  There just seems to be no end to this madness........

Mexican Stuffed Shells

1 lb. lean ground beef (or ground turkey)
1 package taco seasoning
1-2 tsp. cumin (optional)
Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
4 oz. 1/3 less fat cream cheese
14-16 jumbo pasta shells
1 ½ cups salsa (use your favorite, I always get Chili’s to go)
1 cup taco sauce
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 cup Monterey jack cheese

Green onions
Sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a 9x13 inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.  Set aside.

Brown the beef in a medium to large skillet, over medium high heat.  Once the beef is cooked through, drain the excess grease and return the beef to the skillet.  Follow the package directions on the taco seasoning and allow to simmer for a few minutes.  (If you want some extra flavor, here is also where you could add in the ground cumin and cayenne pepper)  Add the cream cheese and stir around until the cheese is completely melted and mixed in with the beef.  Keep the temperature at a simmer during this process.  Once ready, remove the pan from the heat and allow time to cool.

While the beef is browning, cook the pasta shells according to package directions.  Once they’re done, drain and lay the shells out on a clean, flat surface to cool.  It’s very important to keep the shells separated, as it will keep them from sticking together.

Once the shells and meat mixture have had time to cool, evenly pour the salsa onto the bottom of the prepared 9x13 baking dish.  Stuff each shell with the meat mixture and then place the prepared shell on top of the salsa.  Make sure the open side of the shell is facing up.  Evenly coat the shells with the taco sauce.  Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

When time is up, remove the foil from the dish and sprinkle on the cheese.  Continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes or until the cheese has completely melted.  Top with any garnishes of your choice.  (Green onions, black olives, tomatoes, etc.)

Source: adapted from The Way to His Heart


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Oriental Chicken Lettuce Wraps

When I hear the word salad I smile (and no....sadly, I am not joking).  I think it's mostly because I find salads to be absolutely delicious and they're just one of those meals that never seem to go wrong!  Technically, all you have to do is grab some lettuce, toppings, and your favorite dressing and you are set!  Voila!  You have a salad. 

However.....I sometimes like to spice things up; which is exactly what I did with here.  As you probably already noticed, this particular 'salad' does not take on the traditional appearance, but instead looks more like a wrap of sorts.  (Although I still ended up eating mine with a fork

Other than the exquisite taste, the best thing about this dinner (or lunch) is the fact that it's healthy!  You can also feel free to get creative and add other fresh toppings that you enjoy!

Oriental Chicken Lettuce Wraps

1 lb. lean ground chicken
1 Tbsp. + ¼ tsp. reduced sodium soy sauce
½ tsp. oyster sauce
1 ½ tsp. sesame oil, divided
1 Tbsp. rice wine or dry sherry
½ tsp. sugar
Black pepper, to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 iceberg lettuce leaves, rinsed
2 Tbsp. diced scallions
Cheddar cheese, shredded, as much as you like
Garnish with Rice Noodles

In a small bowl whisk together the soy sauce, oyster sauce, ½ tsp. sesame oil, rice wine, sugar, and black pepper.

Place the ground chicken in a separate bowl and evenly pour over the soy sauce mixture.  Let marinate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Heat the remaining sesame oil in a skillet over high heat.  Add in the garlic and sauté until golden, about 10-30 seconds.  Now, add in the chicken mixture, and cook until browned through, making sure to break the chicken into pieces while it’s cooking.

To assemble:
Scoop about ¼ cup of the chicken mixture into a lettuce leaf, and garnish with a little cheddar cheese, rice noodles, and a few scallions.

Source: Adapted from Gina's Skinny Taste

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Roasted Garlic with Chicken and Pesto Pizza

I've recently discovered that my local grocery store (Harris Teeter) happens to have the absolute best Basil Pesto Sauce!

Ever since I first tasted it I was hooked and have been searching for ways to try to incorporate it into a meal.  Putting the sauce into a pasta dish of some sort was my original plan, but then I happened to come across this recipe, for pizza, that happened to use a pesto sauce for a base.  I immediately became excited and went out to purchase the other ingredients I would need, (which honestly wasn't much) and then I set to work.

The pizza itself did not take very long to throw together and the end result was even better than I'd hoped for!

Roasted Garlic with Chicken and Pesto Pizza

1 pizza crust (store bought or homemade, I didn’t have time for homemade, so I used Boboli 12” Whole Wheat Thin Pizza Crust)
¾ - ½ cup prepared pesto sauce
1 bulb of garlic
1 tsp. olive oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked (use some olive oil when cooking) and shredded
Mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese

To roast the garlic:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Gently peel off the outer shell of the garlic bulb, leaving the skin directly around the individual cloves intact.  Now, using a sharp knife, cut about ½ an inch off the top of the garlic bulb, exposing the inside of the cloves. 

Drizzle the top of the exposed cloves with a little olive oil and then wrap the garlic bulb in aluminum foil. 

Once ready, place onto a baking sheet and let the garlic cook for around 35-40 minutes, or until the cloves feel soft.  Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool for a minute or so before trying to unwrap the garlic bulb.  Next, using a small bowl, gently squeeze the individual cloves from their skin and mash together with a fork or a spoon. 

This should form a paste like substance. Set aside.

For the pizza:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  (If using a pizza stone, preheat this along with the oven)

Using a knife or the back of a spoon, spread the roasted garlic paste over the pizza crust (please feel free to spread on as much or as little as you like; I seem to enjoy the garlicky taste so I put on the whole bowl).  Next, evenly spread around the prepared pesto sauce. 

Top the sauce with the shredded chicken pieces (I find the chicken easiest to spread around if you use your hands). 

After that, add on the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses (once again, you can add on as much or as little as you like). 

If using a regular pizza pan, place in the oven and bake for 8-12 minutes.  If using a pizza stone, place the crust on parchment paper and then transfer it to the stone.  I always like to turn the oven onto broil for the last minute or so of cooking in order to give the cheese that nice golden brown tint (If you do this though, keep a careful eye on the pizza because it can burn quickly). 

No matter how great the pizza smells when it's done, wait a few minutes before cutting!  Enjoy!

Source: Sugar Cooking

Monday, June 11, 2012

Key Lime Cookies

This past March, Pi Day to be exact, I was provided with the opportunity to sample my very first piece of key lime pie and instantly became a fan.  Something about the refreshing lime taste of the filling, in combination with the sweetness of the graham cracker crust, just made my taste buds cry out for more.  It was absolutely delicious!

To this day, I still have not made my own key lime pie (mostly because the opportunity hasn't presented itself) but when I was trying to think about ideas for a good cookie, key limes suddenly sprang to mind.  I just felt like they'd be a great flavor for the beginning of summer, and for me, that's what today is.  As of 3:00 this afternoon I was officially done with school and my summer began!  And what better way to celebrate, than with these great summer flavored cookies......except of course, for maybe these cookies in combination with a Margarita or two!

Key Lime Cookies

Makes about 36 cookies
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened to room temperature
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
¼ cup key lime juice or regular lime juice (freshly squeezed tastes the best)
2 ½ tsp. lime zest (grated)
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¾ cup white chocolate chips
½ cup (or less) macadamia nuts (chopped)
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (however the dough needs to refrigerate for about an hour ahead of time, so don’t preheat the oven too early).

In the bowl of an electric mixer beat together the butter and sugar, on a medium-high speed, until it's well combined and becomes fluffy in texture.  Next, add in the egg and egg yolk and beat together until well blended and creamy.  After that, add in the lime juice and the lime zest and beat until just combined.

Now, using a wooden spoon, or a spatula, add in the flour, baking powder, salt, white chocolate chips, and macadamia nuts until a dough like texture is formed and everything is blended together.  Refrigerate the dough for at least 60 minutes, or as long as overnight.

Once ready, shape the dough into 1 inch balls by rolling the dough around in the palm of your hands.  Then place the prepared dough balls onto the baking sheet, about an inch apart.

Bake 10-12 minutes, or until the cookies just begin to turn light golden in color.  Immediately transfer to a wire rack.  Once the cookies have cooled completely, lightly dust them with powdered sugar and serve.

Source: Adapted from Honest Fare

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Little Slice of Heaven (A.K.A - The Ultimate Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Snickers Cookie)

As stated in my previous post, the school year is almost over and I currently have two days left with the kids!  I always find this time of year to be a little bittersweet though.  For one thing, I'm incredibly excited for my own summer vacation to begin (maybe even more so than the students'), while on the other hand, I'm sad to have to say goodbye to yet another wonderful group of kids.

After a lot of hard work put forth throughout the 4th quarter of the school year, I promised some of the winning groups, in each class period, that I'd bring them in a special treat.  It's really no secret with my student's that I have a passion for baking and cooking and some students even check out my blog ("Hey guys!").  I don't mind making them treats either, because I find that if a little baking on my part, in combination with teaching, will help them become successful in reaching goals, they might not otherwise reach, then it was worth every second of my time! 

I've held little group challenges each quarter throughout the school year and have made a variety of things to give away.  However, this time around I decided to combine some things I knew for sure that my students enjoyed, which definitely included chocolate......and of course, who can resist a Snickers candy bar?  Definitely not them, so here's the result of my creativity!  I'd say it turned out to be a success.

A Little Slice of Heaven
(A.K.A - The Ultimate Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Snickers Cookie)

Makes about 36 cookies
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup milk chocolate, chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter chips
½ cup unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 package mini snicker’s bars (each bar should be cut into three pieces and frozen)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silicone mat.

With an electric mixer, cream together the butter, peanut butter, white sugar, and brown sugar, until smooth.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Stir in the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda.  Pour the flour mixture into the peanut butter mixture and beat until just combined.  Now, using a large wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and peanuts (This is best when done by hand but you may feel free to use your electric mixer set to a low speed)

Once the dough is ready, drop it by tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheet(s) about an inch or so apart.  Then, push one frozen snickers half into the center of each ball of dough.  Bake for 9-11 minutes.  It’s very important that you let the cookie cool on the pan for 1-2 minutes; otherwise the cookie will fall apart when you try to transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy!  These cookies will go fast!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

BBQ Chicken Penne Skillet

(I had to leave off the scallions, because this was for Jeff and he doesn't like them)

There are only 4 days left of the 2011-2012 school year and I'm incredibly excited!  Mostly because this means that I'll finally have some free time to bake and cook.  It's been kind of depressing for me this school year because with the new hours, 9:15-4:15, I haven't able to make the types of dinners that I use too.  Not only that, but I've been living in a rental house, with a very small kitchen.  Due to this, I haven't had as much space as I use too, and a lot of my bake ware and cookbooks are still packed in boxes somewhere.  However, the new house is almost done being built, and the kitchen already looks AMAZING!!!  I'm really looking forward to all the counter and cabinet space that I'll have and am excited about moving during the summertime, when I'll be able to use the kitchen to it's fullest.

Back to today's post though........

I've never been a fan of BBQ chicken, but my husband Jeff absolutely loves it!  I feel bad sometimes because I'm always making him try food that I want to eat, so I only thought it'd be fair to make something special just for him.  To be honest, I had absolutely no intention of eating any of this meal.  I wanted to sample a bite though, just to make sure it was cooked through, and to my surprise I loved it!  I couldn't help but have more, which turned out to be unfortunate for Jeff, because that meant fewer leftovers.  I felt bad.....but not really, because it made quite a few servings and there were still more than enough leftovers.

Spicy BBQ Chicken Penne Skillet

Serves 6-8
3 chicken breasts cut into 1 inch or smaller pieces
1 cup BBQ sauce (Use your favorite)
1 package (16 oz) penne pasta
1 small onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (14 ½ oz.) Rotel - green chilies with diced tomatoes, undrained (I use the HOT)
½ cup beef broth
1 ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. salt
Pepper to taste
1 to 1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
Garnish with scallions

Place the chicken pieces in a medium bowl and coat with the BBQ sauce.  Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, cook the chicken pieces until done.  Place the pieces in a bowl, cover with foil, and set aside. 

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Rinse out the skillet and then place it back on the stove over a medium-high heat.  Add in the butter, olive oil, and onion.  Sauté the onion until it becomes tender.  Add in the garlic and sauté until it becomes fragrant, this should take about 1 minute.  Stir in the chicken pieces, Rotel, beef broth, red pepper flakes, cumin, salt, and pepper.  Continue to cook until warmed through.

Add the pasta and cheese to the chicken mixture and stir around until everything is well coated.  Garnish with scallions and serve immediately.

Source: Adapted from Real Mom Kitchen