Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Balsamic quinoa with sautéed asparagus and a creamy pesto-marinara sauce

Impromptu nights with friends are so much fun. When you have an hour to get ready and no one is expecting much, it's always a great time to relax and enjoy each other's company. I'm terrible about putting so much effort into every cocktail party that I often lose sight of the reason that I invited my friends over. In my head, all I want to do is sit on the couch and catch up. But when it happens, I'm running around like crazy re-arranging flowers or obsessing over how clean my floor is or stressing over a simple appetizer. I'm the classic Martha in the Mary and Martha story in the Bible - I spend all of my time preparing and none of my time listening!

The only way around this pattern for me is to have unexpected dinner parties. It probably sounds insanely stressful, but I love to play Iron Chef with the random (and when I say random, I mean a tin-of-ostrich-pate random) ingredients in my cupboards. There's always enough on hand to pull something together. And once that's done, and my friends arrive, I feel "off the hook" for not having a perfectly put together home and I'm finally able to enjoy myself. So please, by all means, shoot me a text when you're five minutes away and invite yourself over for happy hour. 

We had one of these nights on Friday. We had planned on meeting some friends out before heading to Crystal Bridges Art Infusion event (which was a fantastic event, by the way). But, with different arrival times and the steep price of the restaurants on the square, Husband suggested inviting everyone to our house before the event. I initially panicked, but we pulled together a great little happy hour with some wine, a cheese board, and a couple of dips. One of those dips was the creamy pesto-marinara that I used in a sauce in today's leftover meal recipe. 

This is not a recipe that I even planned on sharing. It's a leftover concoction that I put together out of sheer laziness the desire not to waste anything. We (the royal we; Husband does the grilling around here) grilled a pork tenderloin earlier in the week and needed to do something with the delicious, flavorful remaining third or so of the meat. I think you could use pretty much any leftover meat in this dish - chicken, steak, pork, shrimp, whatever, or you could always omit. The flavor doesn't come from the meat so much as it does from the delicious asparagus and the creamy pesto-marinara sauce. I'm calling it a "sauce" in the recipe to make it sound like a more normal meal. It's really leftover dip and is fantastic when you have no time at all and want to make something indulgent to spread on crackers. 

Balsamic quinoa with sautéed asparagus and a creamy pesto-marinara sauce

For the quinoa, you will need:

  • 2 cups water and 1 low-sodium chicken bouillon cube, or 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 tsp. olive oil 
  • 1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Quinoa method:

  • Heat 2 cups of water with 1 chicken bouillon cube and the rinsed quinoa to boil. 
  • Cover, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for 15-20 minutes. 
  • When quinoa is cooked, remove from heat and let rest for five additional minutes. 
  • Stir in 1 tsp. olive oil and 1 tsp. fresh parsley

For the saute, you will need:

  • 1-2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 6-8 fresh asparagus stalks, trimmed
  • 1 - 2 cups leftover meat, any kind 
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Italian spice blend (or a mix of dried basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and thyme)
  • 8 cherry or cherub tomatoes (any mini tomato)
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Saute method:

  • Heat olive oil and garlic in a large skillet on medium-high heat for three minutes. 
  • Add in asparagus and lemon juice. Cook for five minutes, then stir in leftover meat and spice blend. Cook for an additional five minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • Add tomatoes and balsamic vinegar and cook, stirring carefully (you don't want them to burst) for five more minutes. 
  • Serve hot on top of quinoa, topped with creamy pesto-marinara sauce. 

For the creamy pesto-marinara sauce, you will need:
  • 1 8 ounce package of cream cheese
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 cup pesto
  • 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. each sea salt and black pepper
  • Dash red pepper flakes, optional
Sauce method:
  • Preheat the oven to 350. 
  • Stir all ingredients together in a bowl. Transfer to a 9x9 oven-safe cooking dish. 
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, until cheeses are bubbling. 
  • Remove from heat and let cool for a couple of minutes. Stir mixture to evenly distribute as needed. 
  • Serve hot, as a dip with pita chips or baguette. 
  • Reserve 1/4 cup or so to stir into the veggie saute, if desired. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sweet Potato Waffle Iron Hash Browns with Cheddar, Zucchini, and Bacon

Spring has definitely arrived to Northwest Arkansas. When I say that spring weather has arrived, I mean that we have had temperatures that have been consistently over 40 for at least six days in a row. That's really all I can ask for. I'm sure we'll have an ice storm next week. 

With spring's arrival, though, I've been knocked out by allergies! They've been bad so far this year. In order to avoid sniffling all over my favorite brunch restaurants, I had to get creative and make something deliciously festive at home (because if we can't celebrate Sunday brunch, what can we celebrate, really?). 

It's not very often that I feel like an innovator. But with this recipe, I branched out and decided to experiment to try making hash browns in the waffle iron. The texture is fantastic. They're perfectly crispy (but of course you can adjust to your liking, thanks to the modern technology that is the waffle iron), but not uniform in consistency. I like mine to have some crunch and also a bit of softness. 

The veggies can also be mixed to prepare a hash brown that suits each flavor preference at your brunch table (if you're a generous short-order cook - Husband gets more of a one-size-fits-all approach to breakfast). I used sweet potatoes (of course) as my base, and added in bacon (obviously) and zucchini (because...it's spring?). 

Sweet Potato Waffle Iron Hash Browns with Cheddar, Zucchini, and Bacon 
Serves 4

You will need:
  • 2 cups grated sweet potato (I prefer unpeeled)
  • 1 cup grated Yukon gold potato (unpeeled)
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tbsp. jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and very finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated zucchini
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • dash hot sauce (to taste)
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 tsp. favorite spice blend (I like a Cajun spice blend)
  • 1/2 tsp. each sea salt and pepper
  • dash cayenne pepper (if desired)
  • To serve (optional): fresh tomato salsa, avocado, sour cream, extra cheddar
  • Cook bacon fully, then drain fat and set aside to let cool on a paper towel. When cool, chop into small pieces. Place in a large bowl. 
  • Add all ingredients to a large bowl. Toss thoroughly to evenly distribute ingredients. 
  • Prepare waffle iron according to manufacturer's directions. I set mine to the darkest setting so the hash browns would be crispy and delicious. Cook hash browns as desired. 
  • Serve hot, topped with extra cheese, salsa, and avocado (for me) or cheese and sour cream (for husband). 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Skillet Cookie


When I started making this skillet cookie on Friday morning, I thought I could make it passable as baked oatmeal - a nice, healthy-but-slightly-indulgent breakfast treat. After tinkering with the proportions and flavors, though, I quickly realized that this is no baked oatmeal recipe. Instead, this is a delicious, decadent oatmeal cookie baked in a cast-iron skillet. 

The cookie dough for this recipe is incredible. It ranks up there with the best cookie doughs of my time. The skillet serving idea is fun because it's easier than scooping up individual balls of cookie dough and the finished product has that great crunchy outside and super-soft middle that keeps me coming back for more. 

I lined my skillet with parchment paper because I use mine frequently and wasn't totally convinced that the cookie wouldn't come out tasting like last night's dinner. The hidden bonus was that once the cookie cooled, i just lifted the parchment paper out of the skillet into an air-tight container for storage. No mess, no dishes, and no crumbling cookie. 

You can modify this recipe to your liking, but I suggest keeping the cinnamon. The combination of cinnamon, oatmeal, and peanut butter is one of my flavor staples. I don't like to have two without the third in a recipe. Like sweet potatoes and avocado must always be served together. We all have out preferences, I won't list all of mine out. Not in this post, at least. 

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Skillet Cookie
Makes one 9-inch skillet cookie (serves 6-8)

You will need:
  • 1 cup all-purpose white flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 2/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter candy pieces (or peanut butter chips)
  • 2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

  • Preheat oven to 350. Line skillet with a sheet of parchment paper, or lightly grease skillet. Set aside. 
  • In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, salt, oats, and cinnamon. Set aside. 
  • In a large bowl, cream softened butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. Stir in vanilla, peanut butter, and egg and mix well. 
  • Gradually incorporate dry mixture (flour, oats, etc.), about 1/3 at a time, until the dough has a uniform texture. 
  • Add peanut butter candy pieces and semi-sweet chocolate chips last. 
  • Transfer the dough to the lined or greased skillet. Mound the dough to leave an inch or so of space between the cookie dough and the edge of the skillet (the dough will rise while baking, so you'll want a slight buffer). 
  • Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Let sit for just a minute after baking, then dig in. Top with vanilla ice cream if desired. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sundried Tomato & Spinach Chicken Quinoa

In case you haven't figured it out at this point, I love to celebrate. I will take any scintilla of a celebration and run wild with a themed meal, special evening, brunch, or parade. So, it should come as no surprise whatsoever that I firmly believe that a six month wedding anniversary is truly a day to be remembered. 

We were lucky to have the opportunity to spend last weekend (the weekend before our six month wedding anniversary) in the lodge where we were wed! My fellow Buffalo River Foundation board members, plus families, were able to spend a weekend floating the beautiful Buffalo River, eating delicious homemade food (including brunch made by yours truly) and developing our goals for the upcoming year. We spent our weekend waking up to this breathtaking view: 

How breathtaking is that view? You need to add Ponca to your bucket list. If you haven't been, you must. If you've been, go back. As often as possible. Our weekend was spectacular, although Mops is still pouting at us for abandoning her for two whole days. Life is rough for this dog, really, really rough. 

The beautiful Ponca weekend is especially lovely in contrast to what we will be doing on our "real" six month wedding anniversary (if that is a "real" thing). This dream team will be divided so that Husband can attend a a gun show. I'd complain, but that just means I have a whole day to treat myself to a perfect day of farmer's market, yoga, and sushi. In short, it appears that we are both celebrating our marriage by doing our favorite things - just not together! So, you win some, you lose some. But, you always, always eat well. Or at least that's my life motto. Evidence:

Speaking of eating well, this one-skillet dinner is really a treat. The dish tastes like a rich pasta, but with the quinoa base it's both heartier and healthier. The flavor comes from a pan sauce made with lemon, white wine, just a bit of herb cream cheese and a low-sodium chicken bouillon cube. I love sundried tomatoes - they add such an intense flavor hit that is both sweet and acidic. I use whole sundried tomatoes when I cook, but you can chop them up if you prefer. I think that the pan sauce and the vegetables have enough flavor to carry the meal, but you can top with some feta or Parmesan cheese if desired. 

Sundried Tomato & Spinach Chicken Quinoa
Serves 2-3

You will need:
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil 
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 tsp. Italian spice blend
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, whole or halved
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 2 low-sodium chicken bouillon cubes
  • 2 tbsp. herb cream cheese
  • 3 cups fresh baby spinach, washed
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp. olive oil 
  • 1 tsp. fresh parsley
  • In a large skillet on medium-high heat, toast olive oil and garlic until slightly fragrant. 
  • Add chicken and spice blend and saute for 5-7 minutes, until chicken is slightly cooked (not all the way finished, but fairly close). 
  • Pour in wine and add 1 bouillon cube, breaking up with a spoon. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, heat 2 cups of water with the remaining bouillon and the rinsed quinoa to boil. Cover, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for 15-20 minutes. When quinoa is cooked, remove from heat and let rest for five additional minutes. Stir in 1 tsp. olive oil and 1 tsp. fresh parsley. 
  • After the chicken-white wine mixture has cooked for 10-15 minutes, stir in herb cream cheese, fresh baby spinach, and lemon juice. Increase heat to medium and cook for five minutes, until cream cheese has melted and the baby spinach has wilted. 
  • Serve in a bowl with quinoa on the bottom and top with chicken mixture. 
  • Chicken leftovers are delicious for the next several days; cooked quinoa is safely stored in the fridge for a week. I store leftover quinoa separately so that I can get creative with "recycling" options. 


Monday, March 31, 2014

Savory Corn & Cheddar Waffle Ham Sandwich with White Cheddar-Mustard Sauce

I gave myself a bit of a Spring Break this week from sharing delicious recipes! The reason wasn't a glamorous vacation, or even a staycation, or even leaving work at a reasonable hour. Nope, I felt like zoning out after work, but this was not possible due to the four dogs we had in our house last week. That's right, four dogs. 

In addition to the two usual suspects, Mops and Ketch and the foster, Sammy, my parents went on vacation and we kept their dog, sweet little Belle. Belle was "my" dog, a Christmas present in high school, but was of course really a family pet. She defies all of the stereotypes associated with her breed (teacup poodle - chihuahua mix, or "teacup chihuahua"); she doesn't bark, yip, bite at ankles, or do anything remotely annoying. 

She spends her golden years in the garden with my mom and her favorite pastime is accompanying them on fishing trips or boat days. She's an awesome little dog. We like to call her Queen Belle when she's staying her, because she keeps a close watch on the younger dogs and makes sure that they don't bother her. It's so funny how deferential these big, rough-playing pups are to this tiny old lady. I keep hoping that some of Belle's amazing disposition will rub off on Mops, but alas, it doesn't seem likely. Mops still hates everything about everything. 

Anyway, with all of these dogs in the house, we haven't really left much although we've considered abandoning them and running away a couple of times. This brunch recipe is perfect for the days when you do have a couple of hours to slowly chip away at a homemade meal. I developed this recipe around a serious craving for some of the good-quality sharp white cheddar block that we had in the fridge. I grated a bowl, beheld it, and tried to figure out how I could eat as much of it as possible without it being weird. This recipe was my answer to the beguiling call of the cheddar. 

The savory waffles form the "bread" in the sandwich, filled with smoked ham, sauteed greens, and a touch of mustard. I added a bit of the white cheddar sauce to the inside of the sandwich as well as pouring it over the top, and crowned the whole thing with a fried egg, sunny-side up. After a brunch of this size (and a couple of mimosas), you really, really, won't feel tempted to leave the house. The only thing you'll want to leave is your pants. I suggest having some stretchy ones and a spot on the couch ready for your inevitable Sunday nap. Enjoy!

Savory Corn & Cheddar Waffle Ham Sandwich with White Cheddar-Mustard Sauce
Serves Four

For the corn and cheddar waffles, you will need:
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose white flour
  • 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. white sugar
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup yellow corn kernels
  • 1 tbsp. dried parsley
  • 3/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. each black pepper & sea salt

  • Prepare waffle iron according to manufacturer's instructions. Preheat oven to 200. 
  • In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, and baking powder. Set aside. 
  • In a large bowl, mix oil, eggs, and milk together. Stir in sugar and spices. Gradually add in flour mixture. Stir until smooth. 
  • Add corn and grated cheddar last. Gently mix to combine. 
  • Pour batter into pre-heated waffle iron and cook to your liking. 
  • When finished, transfer cooked waffles onto a baking sheet in the preheated oven to keep them warm while you cook the white cheddar sauce. 
For the white cheddar sauce, you will need:
  • 2 tbsp. garlic and herb butter (or plain butter with a little garlic salt and dried parsley)
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup grated sharp white cheddar
  • 1/2 tsp. each black pepper & sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp. stone-ground mustard
White cheddar sauce method:
  • Melt butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. Add garlic salt and dried parsley, if using plain butter. 
  • Add flour and stir for two minutes, careful not to brown. 
  • Gradually whisk in milk. 
  • Increase heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Once the mixture begins to boil, reduce heat back to medium and simmer until mixture has thickened, stirring constantly. This takes about three to five minutes. 
  • Stir in mustard, black pepper, sea salt, and garlic powder, then remove sauce from heat. 
  • Add cheese, stirring until it is completely and thoroughly incorporated. 
  • Let the mixture stand at room temperature for up to two hours while you're cooking everything else (and perhaps having a mimosa). Rewarm before using. 
To assemble, you will need:
  • Sauteed greens
    • On low heat, stir together 2 cups spinach or other greens, 1 tbsp. olive oil, and 1 tsp. garlic until greens have wilted. Lightly salt and set aside. 
  • 2 slices smoked ham per sandwich
    • I placed the ham on the baking sheet (in the oven at 250) next to the waffles to keep the ham warm while I was getting everything else ready. 
  • Extra stone-ground mustard
    • This is optional, but suggested if you like a bit of extra heat on your sandwich.
  • One egg per sandwich, served sunny-side up
    • You'll have to make these just prior to serving. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Italian Spaghetti Squash Bake

I wasn't too thrilled about seeing more and more spaghetti squash recipes all over the internet. I'd tried it before, but was always disappointed in the bland flavor. We're huge squash and pumpkin fiends in my family; my standards are high because I know how delicious an exquisite kabocha squash is with nothing more than some olive oil. After reading dozens of spaghetti squash recipes on the internet lately, I decided I needed to give the flavorless black sheep of the squash family another try. I'm glad I did. 

My mistake was looking for the flavor to come from the squash itself. That's not going to happen. This ain't no hubbard. But, what the spaghetti squash offers is an excellent foil for all kinds of other tastes. If you haven't cooked with spaghetti squash before, never fear. I've set out step-by-step instructions with photos to help guide you through the process. You can cook spaghetti squash in the oven, but it takes forever. I cook mine in the microwave with a method that I think is very easy. 

In this recipe, I lightened up a baked spaghetti dish by substituting fiber-rich spaghetti squash for plain old noodles. My husband timidly made himself a very small portion, took a bite, and said that it was "actually very good." I don't often get endorsements more glowing than that when I swap out my husband's favorite foods for vegetables! 

Italian Spaghetti Squash Bake
Serves 8

You will need:
  • 1 large (~4 pound) spaghetti squash
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 1/3 cup pesto (I used sundried tomato pesto)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tbsp. thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated mozzarella
  • 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper

  • Preheat oven to 350. 
  • Prepare the spaghetti squash by cutting it in half, lengthwise, and scooping out the seeds and fibers in the middle with a large spoon. 
  • Take one of the halves and set it cut-side facing up on a microwave-safe plate. Fill the cavity with water (no more than 1/2 a cup) and top with the other half of the spaghetti squash (i.e. at this point it will look like a "whole" squash again). 
  • Carefully transfer to microwave and cook for 10 minutes. Check on the squash and continue cooking until the top half is soft to the touch. It took about 18 minutes for mine to be cooked. 
  • Remove squash from microwave and carefully lift the top half. Drain any remaining water. 
  • Scoop out the strands from the spaghetti squash with a fork or large spoon and place in a large bowl. 
  • Toss with remaining ingredients, but reserve about half of the mozzarella. 
  • Transfer to a large casserole or other oven-safe dish. 
  • Bake for 20 minutes, until the mixture is hot and bubbling, then top with remaining mozzarella and cook for five additional minutes. 
  • Serve hot. Leftovers keep for about a week stored in the fridge. I added a bit more marinara every time I reheated a bowl to keep the flavor strong. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Raspberry & Coconut Pound Cake

New low. I'm leaving for a brief (two day) work trip to Tulsa this morning. Tulsa is just a couple of hours away, so I'm driving over this morning and staying overnight. This means I need to leave the house at 5:30ish to get there on time. Which obviously means I don't plan on packing until approximately 5:25, because I just have got to get this recipe posted. I'm a terrible procrastinator. However, this isn't the new low. The new low has to do with sweet little Ketch. When I woke up (at an admittedly horrendous hour, even by my standards) and opened the door to Ketch's room (the first thing I do when I get up), he looked at me and literally started whimpering! Usually he just looks at me and then sighs and goes back to sleep, or sighs and walks over to the couch, if he sees that the heated blanket is a-blastin'. Here's a shot of him scowling at me from the heated blanket: 

However, this morning he decided to take a stand against early rising. So, I'm not sure how we can make this a saying, but it sounds like a Southern-ism waiting to happen. "She's up so early the bird dog's singing" (his cries sound like weird mermaid songs). Or, "she's up before the dog cries." It needs work, but not that much work. Many Southern-isms (which I should really call redneck-isms, but I don't take kindly to insulting my own folk) don't make sense anyway, so no need for perfection here. 

Now for the recipe that I just have got to post before I even consider whether or not I have any idea where I'm heading this morning. Or what I'll be wearing, or if I do need four pairs of heels (no, probably five). Raspberry and coconut pound cake! 

I started with Paula Deen's Mama's Pound Cake recipe as my base (see link below in the recipe). It's a tried-and-true simple pound cake that I've been making for years. Over time, though, I've re-tooled it a bit. I've swapped out a lot of the sugar for fresh fruit and I've increased the vanilla extract, added some lemon extract, swapped out milk for coconut milk, and added shredded coconut for more nutty goodness. 

The recipe is below, and now I'm going to start packing. Just after I watch a couple more Beyonce music videos and fix my husband dinner in the crock pot. Procrastination is a terrible illness.  

Raspberry & Coconut Pound Cake
Makes one large bundt cake

You will need:
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening 
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose white flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon extract
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 cups fresh raspberries

  • Preheat oven to 350. Grease and lightly flour a tube pan or bundt cake pan. 
  • In a small bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Set aside. 
  • Mix together butter and shortening in a large bowl. Gradually incorporate sugar, about 1/2 a cup at a time. 
  • Add coconut milk, vanilla, and lemon extracts. 
  • Mix in flour gradually, about 1/4 of the flour mixture at a time. 
  • Add shredded coconut and fold in fresh raspberries last. 
  • Transfer the batter to tube pan. 
  • Bake for one hour to one hour and fifteen minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.