Saturday, June 30, 2012

Strawberry Balsamic Bacon Pizza

When I stumbled across this recipe on Annie's Eats, I thought, Wow, now there is an intriguing combination! Strawberries on pizza?

And in that moment, I knew it was something I wanted to try.

Oh and also...

I am currently in love with balsamic vinegar.

Especially the little bottle of Tahitian vanilla flavored balsamic vinegar I got at a cool store in Seattle.

They had a tasting room- how cool is that??

Flitting from one end of the store to another, drinking straight vinegar from little plastic cups- sounds like a good time, right?

Okay, maybe it sounds a tad weird, but trust me, it was awesome. Take it from a cynic.

My personal favorites were the dark chocolate, the Tahitian vanilla (obviously), the strawberry and the espresso. If you've never had the joy of a vinegar and olive oil tasting room, find someplace in your area that does it. It's quite the experience.

But, I'm getting off topic a little, aren't I?

I have heard (and now know by my own experience) that strawberries and balsamic vinegar are a good match (you should try them on ice cream sometime!), and with pizza and bacon involved, what better time to give it a try?

I have this bad habit of not thoroughly reading recipes before I decide to try them, therefore I didn't even know this pizza had chicken on it too until I started making it.

Oh, well.

At any rate, I ended up pan frying the chicken in the bacon grease, and well, you just know that turned out amazing.

In fact, the whole pizza was amazing! I just had a leftover piece for lunch and seriously, every bite bursts with flavor! From the sauce made from strawberry jam, balsamic reduction and chili sauce to all the sweet and savory toppings, it is an experience I will no doubt soon be recreating.

Strawberry Balsamic Bacon Pizza
adapted slightly from Annie's Eats
makes 1 large pizza

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup strawberry jam or preserves
1 tsp sweet chili sauce (can be found in the Asian food section)

1 recipe pizza dough (use mine or your own favorite!)
1 cup shredded or diced cooked chicken (if desired, cook in bacon grease)
4 slices smoked bacon, diced and cooked until crisp
1/2 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
4 oz. mozzarella cheese
2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
2-3 TB minced fresh cilantro
1/2 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and diced

Heat balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over med-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook 4-5 min. or until reduced by about half and thick and syrupy. Watch carefully so as not to burn! 
In a small bowl, combine the balsamic reduction with the jam and chili sauce. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 500. 
Roll out pizza dough onto lightly greased pan. Spread balsamic-strawberry mixture in a thin layer over the crust. Layer with chicken, bacon, onion, cheeses, cilantro and strawberries (in whatever order you like).
Bake until crust is lightly browned and cheese is melted and bubbling, about 12-14 min. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before slicing.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Easy Italian Bread

Ah, there's nothing quite like the smell of fresh baked bread.

And there's nothing quite like how easy this fantastic bread is!

These soft, sturdy, mouth-watering loaves are perfect as a compliment to almost any dinner and would also be a great option for bruschetta or french toast and yet- here's the best part- from start to finish they only take about an hour and half. How great is that? Only six ingredients and two gorgeous loaves of bread in no time flat.

What are you waiting for?

Easy Italian Bread
makes 2 large loaves (approx. 15"x6")

2 pkg. fast rising dry yeast (or 4 1/2 tsp)
2 TB sugar
2 1/2 tsp salt
4 1/4-4 3/4 cups flour, divided
1 3/4 cups warm water (about 130 degrees F)
2 TB vegetable oil

In the large bowl of a mixer, place yeast, sugar, salt and two cups of flour. Mix with regular beater to blend and add the water and oil. Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes. 

Insert dough hook and beat for another 6.5 min., adding flour as needed to keep dough from being sticky.
Place dough on a floured surface, cover with a cloth, and let rest for 10 min.

Punch down dough and form into two long, narrow loaves. 

Place loaves on greased pan, cover and let rise in a warm place for 30 min.
Preheat oven to 375.
Before placing the loaves in the oven, moisten your fingers and gently spread water over the top of the loaves. Cut three slashes in the top of each loaf with a serrated knife.

Place loaves in oven and bake for approx. 25 min. or until risen and golden brown.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

{No-Bake} Strawberry Icebox Cake

I am so excited about strawberry season!! While we wait for them to ripen in our own little garden, or even in the u-pick fields of Spokane's foothills, I am eagerly embracing the advent of store-bought California berries.

My husband happens to be a strawberry dessert fanatic (I think I could bribe him for just about anything with strawberry shortcake). While I normally make a beeline toward anything containing chocolate, hubby heads straight for anything with fruit. 

Especially berries. 

Especially strawberries. 

When it comes to this mile-high dessert, we agree: it's amazing. 

And, it has the best of both worlds- chock full of bright red berries and topped off with a drizzle of dark chocolate ganache. Who can resist such a combination? 

But, we haven't even come to the best part! 

Sandwiched between layers of graham crackers and strawberries are heavenly heaps of whipped cream- homemade whipped cream- oh so lightly sweetened with powdered sugar and vanilla.

Are you picturing this in your head now? 

Stacks upon stacks of honey graham crackers, fluffy whipped cream, bright sweet strawberries- all drizzled topped off with a drizzle of decadent dark chocolate. 

While this concoction may tower in your imagination and on your plate, it is as light and airy as summer itself! 

Just a hint of sweetness. 

Just a smidge of richness. 

And no need to turn on your oven.

No-Bake Strawberry Icebox Cake
(printable version)
adapted from the Kitchn
serves 8 to 12

2 lbs. fresh strawberries, washed and hulled (save a few for garnish!)
3 1/4 cups whipping cream, divided
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3-4 sleeves of graham crackers (20-24 whole crackers)
2 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped

Slice berries into thin slices and set aside.
With a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer (bowl and beaters chilled), whip 3 cups of the cream until it just holds stiff peaks. Add the confectioners sugar and vanilla and whip to combine.
Spread a small spoonful of whipped cream on the bottom of a 9x13 baking pan (or platter of similar size). Lay down a layer of graham crackers (I used 5). Lightly cover the crackers with whipped cream, followed by a single layer of strawberries. 
Repeat 3 times until you have 4 layers of graham crackers. Spread the last of the whipped cream over the top and swirl lightly with a spoon. Add a few more strawberries.
To make the ganache, heat the remaining cream until bubbles form around the edges, then pour over the chopped chocolate. Let it stand a few minutes, then whisk until thick and glossy. Drizzle this over layered dessert with a spoon.
Refrigerate at least 4 hours, or until crackers have softened completely. Garnish with additional berries.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta & Garlic

I have recently discovered I have a thing for brussels sprouts. They are such a unique vegetable- I don't even know how to describe the flavor and texture. They resemble tiny cabbages and are a delicious complement to many dishes. My favorite way to prepare them is roasting. It keeps them tender on the inside while resulting in a crispy, slightly charred exterior. My very first introduction to brussels sprouts was a recipe much like this one- roasted with bacon.

In this recipe, I use pancetta, but you can easily substitute bacon, since I know pancetta isn't something everyone has on hand. I happened to have some in the freezer, leftover from the delicious Creamy Tuscan White Bean Pasta...

So- yum! If you haven't already, give brussels sprouts a chance. If you have, try them again. I bet this recipe will make you a believer. After all, who can resist bacon and garlic? It makes everything marvelous.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Garlic
makes about 4 servings

1 lb. brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (to trim a sprout, slice off the very end and remove the tiny outer leaves)
2 oz. pancetta, visible fat removed and pancetta minced (or you can substitute bacon)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 TB olive oil
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 450.
Toss together all ingredients except water. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Spread in one layer in an 11x7 baking pan.
Roast in upper third of oven, stirring once halfway through roasting, until sprouts are brown on edges and tender, about 25 min. total. Stir in water, scraping up browned bits. Serve immediately.

Friday, June 22, 2012

{Slow Cooker} Butter Chicken

Ah, the slow cooker. Perfect in all seasons. Lending to your home that pleasant aroma that makes you look like you've been slaving over a hot stove all day.

Though slightly more exotic than your ordinary crock pot roasts, pulled pork and soups, this delicious dish is also a product of the slow cooker! Though its name may sound anything but exotic, Butter Chicken is a delicious Indian dish including many more ingredients than just butter.

Garam masala for one.

I accidentally overlooked this ingredient when making out my grocery list, so as I pulled out the recipe, I panicked. I didn't even know what it was! Thanks to Google, I now know that garam masala is an aromatic Indian spice blend. It seems that the spices are traditionally roasted whole and freshly ground, which produces excellent flavor. Of course, I couldn't quite replicate that, however, I did find a recipe for "easy garam masala" (it'll do in a pinch!) that, to my unexperienced tastebuds, was delicious!

The entire dish was laced with spice- hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, with a kick from fresh ginger and cloves. I served it over rice and it was fantastic- tender chicken breast cubes, creamy, nutty, spice-laden sauce and fresh cilantro to top it all off. I think I'd call my foray into Indian cuisine a success!

Butter Chicken
from AllYou Magazine
serves 6-8

4 TB unsalted butter
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 lb. boneless chicken breast or thighs, cut into 2 in. pieces
1 2 in. piece fresh ginger, cut into 1/2 in. slices
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 cup plain yogurt (not nonfat)
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 TB chopped fresh cilantro, if desired

Melt butter in a large skillet over med-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to brown (5-7 min). Scrape into slow cooker. Place chicken pieces on top.
Combine ginger, garlic, almonds, yogurt, garam masala and salt in a food processor or blender and process until smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Add tomatoes and pulse once to combine. Pour mixture over chicken. Cover and cook on low until chicken is tender, 4 to 5 hours.
Stir in heavy cream, cover and heat until warm, about 5 min. Serve with rice and sprinkle with cilantro just before serving, if desired.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Meals for a Month {June-July}

Week 1 (June 19-23)

Side: Fresh Baked Italian Bread

Out for our Anniversary!
Entree: Chicken Stir Fry
Side: Rice
Side: Fresh Veggies
Side: Italian Bread

Week 2 (June 26-30)

Entree: Quesadillas
Side: Refried Beans and Spanish Rice
Entree: Tex-Mex Chicken White Cheddar Spaghetti
Side: Corn on the Cob
Entree: Thai Chicken Pizza
Side: Fresh Fruit and Veggies
Entree: Oriental Chicken Salad
Side: Garlic Bread

Week 3 (July 3-7)

Entree: Crispy Southwest Chicken Wraps
Side: Mexican Roasted Potatoes
Entree: Grilled Salmon
Side: Rice and Sweet Potatoes
Entree: Butter Chicken
Side: Rice and rolls
Entree: Pepperoni Pizza
Side: Fresh Fruit and Veggies
Entree: Doritos Taco Salad
Side: Italian Bread

Chewy Chocolate Cinnamon Cookies

Or, as I like to think of them: Chocolate snickerdoodles. I can't believe I haven't shared this recipe with you yet! When I made these a couple of weeks ago, I searched through the archives to make sure, and sure enough, I had not! Shame on me, for these cookies are some of my favorites! The recipe comes from Hershey's, after all!

Amazingly soft and chewy. That crackled sugary outside. Chocolaty, with just a hint of cinnamon. Need I say more?

Chewy Chocolate Cinnamon Cookies
makes about 40 cookies

6 TB butter, softened
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 TB plus 1/4 cup white sugar, divided
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4-1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350. Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray.
Beat butter until creamy. Add brown sugar and 3 TB white sugar; beat until blended. Add egg, baking soda, corn syrup and vanilla; beat well.
Stir together flour and cocoa; beat into butter mixture. Cover; refrigerate 30 min. or until firm enough to shape. Shape dough into 1 in. balls. Combine 1/4 cup white sugar and cinnamon; roll balls in mixture to coat. Place balls 2 in. apart on prepared cookie sheet.
Bake 8-10 min. or until cookies are set and tops are cracked. Cool slightly; remove to wire rack. Cool completely.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Roasted Tilapia with Black Bean & Mango Salsa

I have been off the blogging kick lately- for several reasons. I have had a cough for 3 weeks now (already did the just might be starting to go away) and even though I made some yummy food, I just didn't feel like writing. I was also gone a good part of last week to a mini-reunion in Seattle with my Ecola housemates! We had a great time catching up and enjoying lots of girl silliness. But now I'm back and I am determined to make an effort to share with you some of the yummy foods that we've enjoyed the last couple of weeks.

To start us off, I bring you a delectable fish entree! The mild, white tilapia is oven-roasted to perfection, but the real star of the show is the salsa. If you've ever been leery about using fruit in a savory dish (such as salsa), now is your chance to branch out! The mango, black beans, lime and cilantro meld beautifully (both in taste and in visuals!) and the salsa pairs perfectly with the mild fish. Not only does the mango add a pop of color, it pops with flavor as well! I was pleasantly surprised to find that fruit salsa can be absolutely delicious!

Oh, and if you're wondering what the green stuff is in the picture, it's an avocado cream sauce- perfect for dipping and great on rice. Simply mash 1 avocado and mix with 1/3 cup greek yogurt and 2 TB sour cream!

Roasted Tilapia with Mango & Black Bean Salsa
adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen
serves 4

4 tilapia filets, room temperature
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 mango, peeled and diced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2-3 TB lime juice
2-3 TB olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin

Preheat oven to 400.
Lightly spray glass baking dish with cooking spray. Place tilapia in pan, drizzle lightly with olive oil. Roast 25-35 min. or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
Prepare salsa: if beans are wet, blot dry with a paper towel. Mix beans, mango, cilantro, 2 TB lime juice, 2 TB olive oil and cumin in bowl. Add more lime juice and oil to taste.
Spoon salsa over hot roasted tilapia.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mango-Pineapple-Orange Smoothie {a Crazy Cooking Challenge}

It's Crazy Cooking Challenge time again!


 I was so excited to hear that this month's challenge is fruit smoothies! Hubby and I LOVE smoothies. 5+ years ago, my brother went through a smoothie "kick" and he sold me on it. I even went so far as to spend a lot of my hard earned bucks on a new quality machine. I think the bucks paid off, because the blender still stands (although, thanks to another brother, the stopper on the lid has been broken for about 3 years...still holding on with some massive amounts of masking tape)! And more importantly, it still blends. Delicious concoctions- with smoothies, the sky is the limit!

Strawberry banana is a reigning favorite, as well as mixed berry (usually strawberries, raspberries and blueberries) and peach-strawberry. I have also sampled the green variety, throwing handfuls of fresh spinach into the mix (which, amazingly, you can't even taste!). Also on the sampled list are oatmeal smoothies and ones with flax seed included (didn't really care for the flavor or texture on that one). We generally like our smoothies creamy, so in addition to the fruit (always frozen so we don't have to water it down with ice!), and fruit juice we usually toss in some milk and/or yogurt.

This particular smoothie was chosen as a candidate because of it's use of mango. I love mango, and as Providence would decree, Travis brought me home a whole box of mangos from our Food Bank's surplus yesterday! I knew then and there it would be mango. So chopped and froze some that were ripening fast and today I tried this promising recipe from The Fusion Chronicles. Her recipe is a sort of copycat for the McDonald's mango pineapple smoothie and it is spot on! If you've ever had one from McDonald's, I can promise you, this is better! It is creamy, sweet and tangy and the consistency is perfect. The flavor of a mango is hard to describe, but I always come up with "bright" (if bright is a flavor!).

Mango-Pineapple-Orange Smoothie
(printable version)
makes one (about 12 oz?)
adapted from The Fusion Chronicles

1 cup chopped frozen mango (if using fresh mango, add a few ice cubes)
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup orange juice
1 container (6 oz) fruit flavored yogurt (pina colada recommended- I used vanilla)
2 TB sweetened condensed milk

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

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