Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip

Right now I am sitting in my living room, looking at our nice array of appetizers. Fancy cheese and crackers, shrimp cocktails, mixed nuts, and the spinach artichoke dip Tom and I made. It's a nice addition to a traditional mix of foods.

It was kind of a last-minute idea, but I found this Paula Deen recipe and molded it a little bit. Here's what we came up with:

1 9oz package frozen spinach
1 10oz package frozen artichoke hearts
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp black pepper
dash of cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a casserole dish. Allow artichoke hearts to thaw and then chop coarsely. Microwave the spinach for 5 minutes. Drain the water from the spinach, and then combine the two in a large bowl. Add the mayo, sour cream, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and peppers and mix. Pour into casserole dish and top with the cheddar cheese. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve with crackers or fresh veggies.

Garlic Knots

This was my first ever stab at making bread. Yeast is so weird! This recipe went pretty well for me though; no disasters. Thankfully I had my parents giving me tips along the way. And of course my helpful boyfriend.

1 3/4 cups warm water (about 115 degrees, your sink should be able to do this)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast
5 cups flour
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp parsley flakes
1 tbsp fresh basil
2 tsp garlic powder

In a medium bowl, stir together the yeast and warm water until the yeast has fully dissolved, about 10 minutes.
Then combine olive oil, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Slowly add the flour; you will probably need to use your hands to mix as the dough becomes thicker. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and let rise for 1-3 hours, until it is doubled in volume. When the dough has risen, set up a cutting board and rolling pin covered with oil. Spray 3 baking sheets with non-stick cooking spray and keep near your cutting station. Divide the dough in half so that it is easier to use. Roll the dough into a rectangle so that it is about 1/2 inch thick, and cut the dough into strips about 1/2 inch wide. Sprinkle with flour, and roll the dough strips so that they are rounded. Then take each strip and tie them into knots and place them on the baking sheets. Let the dough sit out for about another hour, until the knots have doubled in size. Then place them into the oven preheated for 400 degrees and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Meanwhile, simmer together garlic, 3 tbsps olive oil, garlic powder, parsley and basil on the stovetop. Immediately after you take the knots out of the oven, paint the garlic oil on the rolls.

The next time I make this, I would want the garlic to be somehow inside the knots. The coating is not quite garlic-y enough for me. I assume that the reason you are supposed to paint it on after is so that garlic doesn't burn in the oven. Let me know if you have any tips!

Smashed Potatoes, Chipotle Style

The night before Thanksgiving, and all through the house, was people staying up way too late to finish cooking. This year I was one of those people. My mom requested that I bring some non-traditional side dishes to the table this time, so I did what I do best and looked all over the internet for inspiration. I gave her a list and she chose her favorites.

This one is a new twist on sweet potatoes. It may not go over well for the very young and very old, but for those who like a little spice in their dinner, it's a great re-invention of an old tradition.

I found this on the Food Network website, the original recipe here. I used 5 sweet potatoes, making enough for about 10 people to have as a side.

5 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 tbsp butter
2 whole chili peppers in adobo sauce
2 tsp adobo sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup brown sugar

Put the sweet potatoes in a steamer basket inside of a big saucepan, with about an inch of water at the bottom   at medium-low. Put a cover on the pan and let steam for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. In a big bowl, combine the potatoes and butter and mash. In a separate bowl, use the back of a spoon to crush the peppers into a paste. Mix in all the rest of the ingredients until combined.

Caesar Chicken Breast

I got my inspiration for this recipe from a reader, Lauren, who left a comment with her favorite creation. I used the basic instructions and then added a little bit of my own twist. I was a little worried when I took my first bite that it came out too bland, but the more I ate the more I realized what a great flavor I had concocted.  Thanks Lauren, I never would have thought to marinate chicken in Caesar dressing, but it's a really simple ingredient that makes it taste like you put a lot of work into it.

1 lb chicken breast
2/3 cup Caesar dressing
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 onion
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Mix together the dressing and the spices in a small bowl. Dip the chicken in the dressing, then coat it in the bread crumbs. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add oil. Place the chicken breasts in the pan and cook for about 20-30 minutes, until the inside of the chicken is no longer pink. Top with Parmesan cheese before serving.

If you have extra time, try putting the spiced dressing in a Ziploc bag with the chicken and letting in marinate for a while in the fridge. This will hopefully make your chicken softer and the flavor stronger. Enjoy!

Marinara Sauce

In my family, pasta is frequent. Being 50% Italian, I've been blessed with a family of great cooks and lots of homemade dinners. My memory of growing up was pasta for dinner half of the days out of the week (though I don't know how accurate my memory is). I've always been taught there were two types of red sauce: marinara and "meat" sauce. I can't choose a favorite; it really depends on what mood I'm in. Our other nickname for marinara is "quick" sauce. It's the one that can be made without hours of sitting in a big pot. My mom recently emailed me the recipe so I thought I'd share it with everyone. Think of yourselves as pretty lucky, because this is a cherished family recipe. My grandmother, the great Italian cook my dad inherited his skills from, is the original source of this recipe.

1 28oz can of canned tomatoes (we use Pastene "Kitchen Ready" brand)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
6-8 leaves of fresh basil (or a couple tbsps of dried basil)
2 tsp sugar

Saute onion and garlic in oil over medium heat in a 3 quart pan. Then add basil, tomatoes and sugar. Continue to heat until it begins to bubble, then reduce the heat to medium-low or low. Let simmer for 20-30 minutes. Serve over pasta.

If your sauce tastes too acidic, add more sugar!

Sweet and Spicy Steak Marinade

This recipe is mine and Tom's own creation. We originally made it for chicken drumsticks, but we would much rather try it on steak. Chicken just doesn't soak up marinade like steak does. It was good on the chicken, but the best was when we tasted the sauce right after we made it. The chicken lost a lot of the flavor. Still a good marinade to use on anything really, I'm just suggesting steak to get the full effect.

2/3 cup BBQ sauce (we like Sweet Baby Ray's)
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
2 beers
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp vinegar (we used white wine vinegar)
1 lime, juiced
1 clove garlic, minced

In a small bowl, crush the chipotle pepper with the back of a spoon until it is somewhat of a paste. Then, in a large bowl, combine all ingredients and stir until mixed. Then place the steak (or meat of choice) in the bowl and let soak for a few hours before cooking.

This is the perfect blend of spicy and sweet to make your taste buds go crazy!

Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar and Bacon

This autumn day is probably one of the final weekend days of the year where it was in the 60s, perfect in my mind for a final grilling. Today Tom and I decided to combine seasonal foods with summer-style cooking. First up was this incredible recipe I found here for acorn squash. I love acorn squash. I need to find more recipes using it. I guess I never really thought about it before, but I really do love fall produce.

Anyway, enough of my rambling. Here's the recipe. I wish I could have gotten a better picture; acorn squash is such an interesting vegetable to look at. But I forgot my camera. This is why I'm getting a little digital camera for Christmas, right? (hint hint)

I apologize for the quality of this photo, this is from a camera phone.

1 acorn squash
2 slices of bacon
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste

makes 2 servings

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Halve the acorn squash and scoop out the seeds. (You can salt and cook the seeds along with your squash, that's what we did!) Poke holes in the inside so that the flavor can soak in as much as possible. Melt some of the butter and paint the skin side with it. Add the rest of the butter to the scooped out part of the squash. Place the halves on the baking sheet, and add 1/4 cup of brown sugar and top with a slice of bacon on each side. Bake for 40 minutes. We then threw it on the grill to get the bacon crispy, but you can obviously skip this step. Just cook it until the yellow part is relatively soft. 

If you're health conscious you can always skip the bacon. Then you'd just have a sweet side. This also makes a great appetizer. Or, if you make a whole squash for yourself you can have it as a meal. 

My only problem with this recipe was how to eat it. I wish that recipe instructions also gave eating instructions sometimes. I wasn't sure if I should just chop it up and eat the bacon last, scoop out the inside, or what. I ended up just scooping out the yellow part and forgetting about the skin (though you can definitely eat that too!) and then eating the bacon by itself. The bacon had a nice sweet flavor to it, and the squash was very 
yummy! I totally suggest considering this if you are trying to plan Thanksgiving sides. 

Simple Peanut Butter Cookies

This Paula Deen recipe I found on the Food Network website is awesome because it has so few ingredients; great in a pinch. Being a Paula Deen recipe I expected it to have 3 sticks of butter and about a pound of sugar. This is not the case. In fact, there's no butter at all. Like I said, super convenient. 

1 egg
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine ingredients in a mixer until batter is smooth. Shape the dough into balls about the size of golf balls in your hands and place on a cookie sheet. Press them flat with a fork. (Not sure what the use of these fork marks are, but it sure looks pretty!) Bake for about 10 minutes. 

Although this isn't a very fancy recipe, it gets the job done. Definitely not my dad's peanut butter cookies, but still good. I think they would have been better if I didn't burn the bottom, a common problem I've noticed in peanut butter cookies. My only tip would be to take them out of the oven sooner than  you would think. I waited until the edges of mine became golden-brown, but then the bottoms were almost black.

The original recipe calls for Hershey's Kisses, but obviously I did not have any of those on hand. (If I had any they would probably have been gone the day I bought them.) Of course this would be an amazing addition, especially because any peanut butter/chocolate combination is incredible. Enjoy!

Balsamic Orange Chicken

I apologize that nothing new has been posted in a while. A week ago I ate some bad Subway, which caused me only to be able to eat plain pasta for a few days while my stomach recovered. (Funny story, Subway was calling my frantically after I sent them an email informing them that their food had made me sick...they believed that I was suing them!) As I was recovering from the stomach thing, a cold hit me hard and I was in and out of commission for the week. But when I finally began to feel better, I went over Tom's and we cooked a really simple and really yummy dinner. I believe we found the recipe in his mom's Everyday Food: Great Food Fast magazine, but we modified it a lot.

1 1/2 lb chicken thighs
1 whole orange, sliced
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
olive oil 

the spices we added without measuring:
chili powder
red pepper flakes
brown sugar
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. After rubbing all desired spices on the chicken thighs, place them on the pan and cook until the cooked side is brown, about 5 minutes. (If you are using chicken thighs with bones and skin, cook them skin side down. Also, depending on whether or not your chicken has bone will affect the speed at which it cooks. Boneless will cook faster.) Transfer the chicken to a bake pan and put in the over for about 5 more minutes, until the chicken has cooked all the way through. Meanwhile, add the balsamic vinegar and orange to the original pan, scraping the bottom of the pan for crusty leftovers and mix together. Cook until the oranges begin to soften. Then return the chicken to the pan, and stir the sauce with the chicken until spread even.    

I'd just like to say, I love chicken thighs. They are my favorite part of a chicken. I feel like chicken thighs aren't really advertised that much, but the meat is always so soft! The reason I really wanted to try this recipe is that I remember my dad cooking chicken thighs on the grill when I was a kid and absolutely loving them, and this was a time in my life where it was difficult to get me to eat anything, let alone meat. I was surprised that with so few ingredients how well the recipe came out. I squeezed my oranges onto my chicken because I didn't think the orange flavor got into the sauce that well. Also, don't be shy on the spices, because without them this recipe is relatively bland. A lot of the balsamic taste gets cooked away. Hope you enjoy!