Wednesday, March 24, 2010

how to cut an avocado

these yummy fruits (yup) are healthy and delicious, but can be slippery suckers to cut! i cannot remember who taught me this, but i always use this method to cut avocados.

first, cut the avocado in half lengthwise for two parts, one with the slippery pit challenging you to remove it from it's comfy home.

next comes the fun part, removing that pit. take your knife and hit that pit with the sharp part of the blade (not the tip, but about midway down the knife). the knife should stick in the pit - if it doesn't, try again. then, twist your knife so the pit almost unscrews from the avocado. to get the pit off of your knife, hit the handle of your knife on the side of the sink or garbage - the pit should fall off.

now, use your knife to cut slices or cubes into the meat of the avocado - try not to cut through the skin (of the fruit, or your hand for that matter). now use a spoon to scoop out the green goodness! oh, baby.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

caramel chip bars

warning: this is naughty. there, i said it. but what i'm also saying is: decadent. my sister amy shared this recipe and i figure that i need to put some recipes for bars on here. it's the midwestern thing to do.

caramel chip bars
1/2 c. butter
32 caramels (the little square individually-wrapped ones, obviously unwrap them)
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (18 oz.) package yellow cake mix
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1 c. white chocolate chips
1 (1.5 oz.) heath bar, chopped

in a large saucepan, combine butter, caramel and milk; stir over medium-low heat until smooth. cool. in mixing bowl, combine cake mix, oil, eggs; mix well. stir in chips and heath (dough will be stiff). press 3/4 into greased 9x13". bake at 350 for 15 minutes. cool for 10 minutes.
pour caramel mix over crust. drop remaining dough by spoonfuls into caramel. bake for 25-30 minutes or until edges are golden brown. cool for 10 minutes; run knife around edge of pan. cool 40 minutes longer; cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or until serving. when you cut to serve, cut fairly small as these are rich!

salmon bake with pecan crunch

salmon has a lot going for it. first, it's a yummy firm fish, one could even call it "meaty". second, it's super healthy and full of delicious-sounding stuff like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin d. and third, it's fairly easy to find on sale. ooo-wee! that's my kind of fish.
this recipe is a great combo of tangy mustard and sweet honey flavors, and has great crunch from the pecans. i think it highlights the the flavor and meatiness of the salmon really well. just... trust me!

salmon bake with pecan crunch (from, i think)
2 T. dijon mustard
2 T. butter, melted
1 1/2 T. honey (don't measure that mess, eyeball it!)
4 (4 oz.) salmon fillets
1/3 c. bread crumbs
1/3 c. chopped pecans
2 t. chopped fresh parsley
s&p as needed

preheat to 400. mix together the mustard, butter & honey - refrigerate for 15 minutes. in another bowl, mix together bread crumbs, pecans & parsley. place fillets on a lightly greased baking sheet. brush with mustard mix and cover with crumb mix. bake for 10 minutes per inch of thickness at the fillet's thickest part.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

honey-grill marinade

thank you, joy, for one of our most-used recipes! i love this marinade: delicious, easy, and seems to go well with everything. fire up the grill because this is could be your dinner tonight!

honey-grill marinade
1 (3 lb.) boneless pork loin roast, or about 3 lbs. of boneless/skinless chicken (breasts &/or thighs)
2/3 c. soy sauce (or liquid aminos for gf)
1 t. ground ginger
3 crushed garlic cloves
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/3 c. honey
1 1/2 T. sesame oil

for pork loin: trim fat, butterfly roast cutting lengthwise into 1/2" of other side; for chicken: trim fat. place in a large ziploc bag. combine soy, ginger & garlic and pour over meat. seal bag, place in bowl and refrigerate 3 or more hours, turning occasionally. remove roast, discard marinade. combine sugar, honey and sesame oil in saucepan. cook over low heat until sugar dissolves. heat grill to medium-hot (350-400), brush meat with honey mixture and cook for 20-30 minutes for pork, about 10 minutes for chicken, basting frequently.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

potato salad

potato salad has never been something i get excited about - it's just a way to make barbecues more filling, right? my mind was changed at our rehearsal dinner. vicki, a friend of ours, hosted and provided a potato salad - and pretty much everyone went back for seconds. this is mighty simple, and when i asked vicki for the recipe, she sent me the ingredients, but no amounts, because this is one you can eyeball. the fun (easy!) part - the dressing is marzetti coleslaw dressing (usually by the fancier chilled salad dressing at your supermarket). it's delish!

potato salad
8 large red potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
4-5 celery stalks, chopped
1/4 c. onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, de-seeded and chopped
5 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
1-2 t. dill
~ 3/4 of a jar of marzetti coleslaw dressing

in a large pot, cover cut-up potatoes with water and bring to boil. reduce to simmer and cook until the potatoes are just fork-tender, let's not overcook. drain and cool. mix with remaining ingredients (any can be omitted if you don't like them), and serve or chill.

Monday, March 8, 2010

chicken tikka masala

i'm sorry, you've never tried tikka masala? never heard of tikka masala? honey, that's gotta be changed. this is, hands down, my favorite indian dish. i cannot help but order it at any indian restaurant we visit. tikka masala is a creamy, tomato-y, spicy (as much as you like) very flavorful dish that is best served with naan (indian flatbread - try trader joe's) or rice. i know this recipe isn't straight out of mumbai - more like - but it's super yummy and doesn't require building a tandoor oven in your home so, let's get cookin'.

chicken tikka masala (चिकन टिक्का मसाला in hindi)
1 c. plain yogurt
1 T. lemon juice
2 t. cumin
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. cayenne (i add a touch more, you can take it out altogether if you don't like spice)
2 t. pepper
1 T. minced ginger (or 1 t. ground ginger)
3 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
baking rack* (i use the kind you cool cookies on, but make sure your's is oven-safe!)

1 T. butter
1 minced garlic clove
1 finely chopped jalapeño (de-seed and de-vein it to cut down on heat)
2 t. cumin (not a repeat, you need it twice)
2 t. paprika
1 t. salt, or to taste
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 c. cream
1 c. frozen peas (optional)

in a large bowl, combine all ingredients in first section (yogurt to chicken). cover & refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to a day. preheat oven to 475. spread chicken on baking rack place on cookie sheet (there will be lots of drippings, so lining the cookie sheet with foil will help) - discard extra yogurt mix. cook for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken chunks. melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. sauté garlic & jalapeño for 1 minute. season with 2 t. cumin, paprika & salt. stir in tomato sauce and cream. simmer on low heat until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. add chicken & peas and simmer for 10 minutes. serve with rice or naan.

*you can use skewers and grill the chicken on high heat for about 5 minutes per side, if you're feeling outdoorsy.

oatmeal cookies

oooh doggie, these are some good cookies. and they have oatmeal in them, so surely they're healthy. right? anyone? these are good just with chocolate chips in them. or without, i suppose, if you're into that sort of thing (why on earth are you into that sort of thing?). i have two favorite ways to make this recipe. first, substituting half the chocolate chips for butterscotch chips - that's what's in the pictures. second, i love adding about 1/3 c. dried cranberries and 1 t. cinnamon (i think that makes these cookies even healthier, right? i mean, that's practically granola). below i'm just writing the basic, but add what you will!

oatmeal cookies
1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. butter
2 eggs
2 c. flour
2 c. oatmeal (old-fashioned)
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
2 T. milk
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
1 c. chocolate chips (optional)

cream butter & sugar together. add eggs & beat well. add the rest of the ingredients & mix well. bake at 350 for about 10 minutes.

Friday, March 5, 2010

baked penne

need to fix dinner and are a bit intimidated by the task? tired of serving spaghetti or sandwiches? stick your face in some baked penne! (well, don't... it comes out steamy and melty) this recipe came from claudia, the mother of catherine, one of the wonderful women with whom i meet. every time i've made this for groups it gets gobbled-up right quick - and it's easy as pie.

baked penne
1 (16 oz.) bag penne (or rigatoni)
2 (26 oz.) can marinara sauce
2 crushed garlic cloves (or 1/2 t. garlic powder)
1 c. grated parmesan
1 (8 oz.) container ricotta cheese

cook pasta according to package util al dente, drain. stir in sauce, garlic & ricotta. put in a 9x13" & sprinkle parmesan on top. bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.


best guacamole recipe i've had came from dear kristin... a white girl from small-town wisconsin. if you want to be the most authentic guac-er, i'm sure you can find fault in this recipe, but i'd suggest you just find some tortilla chips and start dippin'.

3 avocados, diced and mashed
1/4 c. finely diced onion
2 heaping T. chopped cilantro
1-2 chopped tomatoes
juice of a lime (to taste)
2 crushed garlic cloves
s&p (to taste)
1 de-seeded/de-veined jalapeno, finely chopped OR 1 T. tabasco (optional)

all ingredients are subject to your taste. hate tomatoes? skip 'em. just mix (with a fork to mash the avocados a bit) and enjoy. need help cutting avocados? try my how-to.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

cinnamon-sugar cookies

as james & his former roommates used to say, "it's sooo sim-po!". this is a very simple recipe with very simple, delicate flavors. i don't really understand how these are different than snickerdoodles (are they? help a sister out here), but whatever! again, so sim-po. and they got a stamp of approval from a friend who used to work at mrs. field's - surely that means something!

cinnamon-sugar cookies adapted from everyday food
2 3/4 c. flour
2 t. cream of tartar
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 2/3 c. sugar, plus 1/4 c. for topping
1 c. butter, softened
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1 t. cinnamon

preheat oven to 350. mix flour, tartar, soda & salt, set aside. in mixer, cream butter & 1 2/3 c. sugar until light. add egg & vanilla and beat. add flour mixture and beat, until dough comes together when squeezed (it'll appear dry). make topping, i.e. sugar & cinnamon. shape dough (about 1 T. each rolled into a ball, rolled in topping & flattened). bake until bottoms are golden brown, about 10 minutes.

chicken tagine with lemons and olives

tagine is a moroccan slow-cooked stew full of complex, interesting and unique flavors. lemon and olives and... cinnamon? yessirree, and it totally works. this tagine recipe comes from dear kristin again... isn't she somethin'? super delicious and healthy, this recipe is awesome served over couscous. nummers!

chicken tagine with lemons & olives
2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts (~1.5 lbs.)
2 boneless/skinless chicken thigh quarters (~1 lb.)
1 t. olive oil
1 c. chopped onion
3 crushed garlic cloves
1 T. each chopped cilantro & parsley
3/4 c. chicken broth
3/4 c. pitted whole green olives (i substitute kalmata)
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 1/2 t. grated lemon rind
1/4 c. lemon juice

sprinkle chicken with s&p. heat oil in large pot over high heat. add chicken, cook 3 minutes each side. remove chicken from pot. add onion & garlic to pot, cook 30 sec., stirring constantly. add chicken, broth, olives, cinnamon & ginger and bring to boil. cover, reduce heat & simmer for 45 minutes, turning chicken over every 15 minutes. add rind, juice, cilantro and parsley, cook for 30 seconds, stirring. serve with sauce spooned over chicken.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

korean chicken thighs

this is a favorite in my sister jen's family. she told me that for years it has been a staple celebration meal in her house, and also a staple consolation meal when someone had a bad day. i really love the flavor of this one & it's fantastic over rice.
dark chinese vinegar can be replaced with rice vinegar, but the real thing is delicious and not biting, like some vinegars can be. here's a pic of the black vinegar i bought at an asian market - hope it helps you.

korean chicken thighs
6 boneless/skinless thighs
1/2 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. dark chinese vinegar (or rice vinegar)
4-6 minced cloves garlic
1/2 t. red pepper flakes (i use more)

preheat oven to 400. brown thighs in 1-2 T. oil in a pan til golden brown on each side - not cooked through. place in oven-safe pan (9x13" works great). mix all other ingredients in a bowl and pour over thighs (the chicken, not your's). cover pan with foil and bake for 1/2 hour, or until cooked through. serve with the sauce.

*updated* i substituted a large chicken breast cut in half for two of the thighs. i put the breast pieces in first for 15 minutes, then added the thighs and cooked them all for 30 more minutes. yum!

artichoke dip

family favorite alert. always a hit, yummy on crackers, easy as pie. i'm done sellin' it, just try it already!

artichoke dip
1 (14 oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
1 (4 oz.) can diced green chili peppers, drained
1 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 c. light mayo

combine ingredients in an oven-proof baking dish (8x8" works great). bake at 350 for about 20 minutes to until heated through.

freaking amazing salad

yup, that's its real name. learned this one from my former roommate leslie, who is a fantastic cook. i love it - i crave it. my mom loves it, others i've shared it with do, too, with one exception. my dear james doesn't like bleu cheese much, so it's not his fave. i'll forgive him... more for me! this is a recipe that, other than the dressing, came with no amounts, so this is my best estimate - reduce or increase ingredients to your liking. and there will be liking, trust me.

freaking amazing salad
a chopped up head of lettuce (butter, boston, or red/green leaf works best)
one sliced stem of green onion
about one granny smith apple, cut into 1/2" chunks
1 1/2 T. bleu cheese
2 T. crumbled pecans
2 T. lemon juice
1 1/2 T. olive oil (i prefer the lighter flavor o.o., but either works)
2 t. sugar
2 t. dijon mustard
s&p to taste

toast up your pecans for a few minutes in a skillet on medium heat - really ups the flavor. whisk together dressing, cut up apple, and toss everything together. enjoy!

Monday, March 1, 2010

bread pudding

this is the first of many recipes that will inevitably be added to this blog that come from my dear friend kristin. kristin is probably the person from whom i've learned the most about cooking, other than my mother, and at least half of my recipes are from her, i think. this one is a winner, for sure! and such a great use of your stale bread. (even cheap stale bread, including aging hot dog buns, works well here) enjoy!

bread pudding
7 slices day-old bread
2 T. melted butter
3 eggs, beaten
2 c. milk, half & half, or any mixture of the two
3/4 c. sugar (white or brown)
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla

preheat to 350. rip bread into small pieces and put into an 8x8". drizzle butter over bread. in medium bowl combine remaining ingredients. beat until well mixed. pour over bread, lightly push down with a fork until it's covered and soaking. bake for 45 minutes, until top springs back when tapped.

** photo courtesy of kelsey ramos at **

a post of what is to come... hopefully

we bought our dwarf lemon tree about 3 months ago and have planted it in a pot in our backyard. we also put it on a wheeled plant stand to be able to move it around to the sunniest areas and make it happy. unfortunately, i threw the tag away, so at this point i don't know if it's a meyer or a eureka lemon tree. foolhardy girl! time will tell, i suppose.

in the last month, dear lemon tree has started to bud - hurrah! and today i noticed that three of the (many) buds have just started to crack open. soon we will have deliciously sweet-smelling lemon flowers in our yard... ahh. and then, hopefully, i will be able to share wonderful lemon-based recipes that i've whipped-up after stepping out into our tiny, urban, limited garden. maybe even recipes that also call for cilantro, basil, parsley, red bell peppers, and jalepenos, which we're also growing. maybe i'll make a recipe that only calls for ingredients i've grown... wait... too far.

a close-up of the bud just having burst... glory be!