Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cheesecake Trifle

♥ Beginner

My dad believes that you're never prepared to attend a party until a trifle has been made. He right too. They not only hit the spot for flavor, combining all of our favorite things in one, but they also look really beautiful and professional. Let's be honest, it's hard to screw up a trifle.

This one just happens to include all of my children's favorite things. A spin on the traditional red, white, and blue trifle that you see around the fourth of July... this one was gone in a matter of two days. Enjoy!

What you'll need: 
1 Angel Food Cake
1 Box of blueberries
1 Box of Strawberries
1 Box of Raspberries
1 Instant Jell-O Packet, Cheesecake Flavor
2 Cups of Milk
1 Cool Whip, 12 oz.
2 Butterfingers Candy Bars, crushed

How it's done: 

1. Start by preparing your pudding. Make the pudding using the Jell-O packet and the milk. Set in the fridge for 10 minutes.

2.Cut the angel food cake into bite size pieces. Cut off the tops of the strawberries and quarter them. Rinse all of the fruit, and set aside.

3. Once pudding has set, remove from fridge and gently fold in the cool whip. Once combined, it's time to assemble the trifle!

4. Layer in the following order - Angel Food Cake, Fruit, Pudding mixture, Crushed butterfingers bar. Two layers, and whalah! Enjoy!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Creamy Vodka Sauce

♥♥ Intermediate

If you've made the homemade Lobster Ravioli then I can only imagined you've made your way on over here looking for a great sauce to top them with. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, and you just wanted a great new pasta sauce in your catalog then you've come to the right place. (You should still check out the Lobster Ravioli here though, because they are so good.) This sauce can be used with any pasta, and tastes terrific!

What you'll need: 
1 Oz. Vodka
1 Cup Marinara Sauce
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
1 Cup Grape Tomatoes, Quartered
2 Tbsp. Butter

Alternative (I suggest this with the Lobster Ravioli) Add: 
1/2 Cup Seafood Broth
1 Cup Peeled & Deveined Shrimp, Cooked and Quartered

How it's done: 

1. In Saute Pan, add Vodka and burn off the alcohol. Add Marinara, Heavy Cream, and grape tomatoes. Stir and heat through. Add Butter and stir to incorporate. Simmer for 3-5 minutes.

If you're making the variation - In saute pan, cook shrimp until warm, add vodka and burn off alcohol. Add remaining ingredients including the seafood broth, and simmer for 3-5 minutes.

Lobster Ravioli, Homemade

♥♥♥ Advanced

I don't know about your family, but mine is part Italian and we're serious about our Pasta. I mean, my maiden name is Vivona for heaven-sake. We don't let a week go by without having SOMETHING made of semolina flour. And last week was no exception.

My mom and I were at work last week, working our tails off (anyone need a Realtor? Anyone? Bueller?) and we stopped to grab some brain food before we collapsed. Occasionally we'll get gift cards from vendors in a hope that we'll send them more business, and we had one for a local restaurant that we needed to use. After going through their menu online we settled on a Lobster Ravioli in a Creamy Vodka Sauce. It was delicious. Blow your mind good. But at the same time, seemed so simple and refined.

That's when it hit me. I have to make this. Now. Right now.

Okay, not right that minute because I was waist deep in work, but it definitely made its way onto my menu for the following week.

If you've been following the blog or very long, then you know that I usually like to try and find meals that don't take more than 30 minutes in the kitchen (because who has the time?), so if you're looking for another quick recipe you'll want to skip this one. It doesn't take a lot of hard work, just time... I found that it was perfect for a Sunday afternoon when everyone was napping after church. The house was quiet, and I didn't have anyone on my heels yelling, "hold me!"

FYI - You can't buy Lobster Ravioli in the frozen food section. Trust me, I looked. So you'll have to make it (or order out) if you get a hankering.  I suggest making a double batch and freezing the extras for later.

What you'll need:

For the Filling - 
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
2 Cups Lobster Meat, Cooked - Chopped roughly (I used the pre-packaged Lobster Meat from my local grocery store)
2 Pinches of Parsley
1/2 Lb. Ricotta Cheese
3-4 Tbs. Parmesan Cheese (You know I went crazy overboard with this one.)
Pinch of Salt & Pepper

For the Pasta Sheets- 
1 Cup Semolina Flour
1 Cup All-Purpose Flour (You can use a wheat flour if you would like)
2 Large Eggs
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil, Extra Virgin

How it's done: 

1. Start by making your pasta dough. Sift the flours together, and add them to your kitchen-aid mixing bowl. Add in the eggs and oil, and a Tbsp. of water. Using the dough hook or paddle attachment, mix on 2 for several minutes. Dough should look crumbly. Turn off mixer, and squeeze dough together with your hands. If dough forms a soft ball, turn it out onto the counter and kneed for 10 minutes. *If dough feels to dry, add 1 Tbsp. of water and mix for another minute. Repeat as necessary.

2. After kneading, wrap dough ball tightly in plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill.

3. For the filling - Add Olive Oil, Lobster Meat, and Parsley to a skillet on Medium Heat. Once warmed, remove from the heat and add the Ricotta and Parmesan Cheeses. Combine well, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set Aside.

4. After dough has chilled, remove from refrigerator and knead for another 5-10 minutes. Pasta should feel silky and all of the graininess of the flour should be gone. Cut in half and roll into a large rectangle. Get the dough as thin as you can without tearing - as it sits on the counter it will tighten back up. Cut into ravioli squares or circles.

5. Take half of your ravioli squares and add 1 Tbsp. of filling to them. Brush the edges with egg wash, and then seal with another pasta sheet. Press edges firmly, and press with fork if needed. (If they aren't well sealed, they will open back up in the water while boiling.)

6. Lay all of your finished ravioli on a cookie sheet (do not let them touch each other) and place them in the freezer. I layered wax paper between them so that I could get more in the freezer. Freeze them for 1 hour, then put them in a large freezer bag, label and freeze.

7. To cook immediately: Cook the ravioli in a pot of boiling water for 7-8 minutes, until they float up.

If you're interested in making the Creamy Vodka Sauce that goes with them, check it out here!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Peanut Butter S'mores Cookies

♥ Beginner

I've been posting so much "real food" lately, and have been neglecting the sweets. The baking side of me has felt neglected. When my daughter came into my room this morning and said, "mommy, why don't we ever do anything fun in the kitchen anymore?" it pushed me over the edge. So off the babies went to bed, and into the kitchen we went.

I had one last cup of marshmallow fluff left (it doesn't
conform to the No-Preservatives & No-Dye program that we're on), but I needed to use it up. We just happened to have these items on hand, so we got to work creating a new cookie that tastes awesoooommmmme. If you don't like s'mores, or peanut butter, we can't be friends anymore. :)

What you'll need:
1 Box of Ritz Crackers (or similar)
1 Jar of Peanut Butter
1 Jar of Marshmallow Cream
1 Package of Chocolate chips OR Chocolate Bark

How it's done: 
1. Lay your crackers flat on the counter, bottom side up. Put Peanut Butter on half of them (not too much!), and put marshmallow fluff on the other half. Careful to go very light on the marshmallow fluff because when it comes in contact with the warm chocolate it will try to leak out the sides!
2. Push each half together to form sandwiches!
3. Melt your chocolate! (According to package instructions.) And dip your sandwiches in them. Place on baking rack to cool.

(This is where the old me would have covered them in sprinkles or drizzled them with an alternating color candy melt, but since we've given up dyes I restrained myself. :))


Monday, March 3, 2014

Easy Chicken Parmesan

♥♥ Intermediate

At our house, we eat a lot of different types of food. But there's one thing that never changes. If I make something with a marinara sauce, there won't be leftovers. That's just a fact. So when I venture into an easy chicken Parmesan, the kids go crazy. ...and I love it. A lot.

This recipe is easy, and doesn't take a ton of preparation. It's relatively quick if you're needing dinner in a timely manner. I'm going to list a jar of marinara sauce in the ingredients, but I tend to make my own (sorry, secret family recipe), which you have time to do while the chicken is cooking, if you want.

What you'll need:
1 lb. Chicken Breast, sliced in half length-wise (thinner)
1 12oz Jar Marinara Sauce
3 C. Shredded Parmesan
1 C. Italian Breadcrumbs

How it's done:
1. Preheat oven to 400*F and prepare a baking sheet with non-stick spray.
2. In a bowl, combine breadcrumbs, and 1 cup Parmesan cheese. Dredge chicken in mixture, patting chicken so that it's thoroughly covered. Place on baking sheet and cook for 30 Minutes, flipping once.
3. While chicken is cooking, prepare a 9X13 baking dish by coating bottom with a thin layer of marinara sauce.
4. Once chicken is done cooking, lay it in your baking dish, cover with remaining marinara, and top with cheese. Bake in oven for 15 more minutes.Or until cheese starts to brown.

Serve over whole wheat spaghetti, with a side salad and garlic bread. Enjoy!

Stir-Fry Sauce, Homemade

♥ Beginner

Since our house has gone dye and preservative free, we've had to learn how to make a lot of things on our own instead of buying the store bought stuff. One of those things is Stir Fry Sauce. We like a good chicken or steak stir-fry from time to time, so I needed one that was comparable to the packets we were used to. I think this one really hit the spot and is worth sharing. If you have a few extra minutes you can make your own too, and it didn't require any ingredients that were out of the norm for our household. You can use this for chicken or steak too.

What you'll need:
2/3 C. Soy Sauce
1/2 C. Chicken Broth
1/3 C. Rice Wine Vinegar
3 1/2 Tbsp. Sugar
1 Tbsp. Sesame Oil
2 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
1 Tbsp. Garlic, Minced
2 Tbsp. Cornstarch
1/4 C. Water

How it's done:
1. Combine all ingredients except the water and cornstarch.
2. In a small bowl whisk together the cornstarch and water, until thoroughly combined.
3. Add water mixture to other ingredients.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

BBQ Chicken Salad

♥ Beginner

I left the kids at home with the hubby, and left early for work. I worked all day long, then realized that our Home Teachers would be coming by... and earlier than usual. I raced home, and with thirty minutes to spare, whipped out this little gem. It was easy, tasty, and out of the norm for us. The kids were so-so on it, but that's okay for a last minute meal that requires less preparation. And it includes beans. Beans are hard to get my kids to eat, and I don't even think that they realized they were in there. (Win for Mom!)

What you'll need:
2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut in half (made thinner)
1/4 C. BBQ Sauce
6 C. Romaine Lettuce
1 Roma Tomato, Diced
3/4 C. Corn Kernels
3/4 C. Black Beans
1/4 C. Monterrey Jack Cheese, Shredded
1/2 C. Cheddar Cheese, Shredded
1/3 C. Ranch Dressing
Tortilla Strips, desired amount

How it's done: 
1. Preheat oven to Broil. Broil Chicken breasts until cooked fully, flipping once. Cover in BBQ sauce and lower rack in oven. (Keep your eye on it, unless you like blackened, crispy chicken!)
2. To assemble salad, toss lettuce, tomato, corn, beans, and cheeses. Cut up chicken to desired size, and toss into salad. Top with ranch dressing and tortilla strips.

Chicken & Asparagus Pasta with Lemon Cream Sauce

♥ Beginner

I've been CRAVING summer. I need some sunshine, a little sand between my toes, fun at the splash park, and maybe even a road trip or two. I need it. My body may start shutting down if this winter continues on much longer. I mean, snow on March 2nd? It feels like some sort of cruel punishment. I am clinically coming down with SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder), and it's sad. <-- Haha, get it? This is NOT a laughing matter.

When I came across a Pin on Pinterest that made my heart leap, because it made me sense that summer was around the corner I just HAD to give it a try. It turned out pretty well, and I think it shelved my SAD, if just for a night.

What you'll need: 
1 Lb. Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
8 oz. uncooked Rotini Pasta
1/2 Lb. Asparagus, Chopped into 1.5" lengths (I used 3/4lb.)
1 C. frozen Peas
1/2 Tbsp. Garlic, minced
1 C. Chicken Broth
1 tsp. Cornstarch
1/3 C. Heavy Cream
2 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
1/2 tsp. Salt

How it's done: 
1. Preheat your oven to 350*F. Trim your chicken (cut it in half so that it's thinner), and bake it for 20 minutes, flipping once. Baking until the juices run clear. Cover with foil and set it aside. Slice when you have a spare minute.
2. Cook pasta according to package directions, being sure to NOT add salt or oil. While pasta is cooking, cut up your asparagus, and add it to your pasta for the last 4 minutes of cooking.
3. Place your peas in a colander, and drain your pasta over the peas. Set it all aside.
4. In a skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat and add garlic. Saute for 1 minute. Combine chicken broth and cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring well. Add broth mixture to the skillet, and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes, or until thick.
5. Remove the skillet from the heat and add Cream, Juice, and Salt. Add Pasta mixture to the skillet, and  chicken.

Just in case you're curious about the original pinterest pin, here it is.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

♥ Beginner

I LOVE sweet potato fries. Seriously, I love them. If I have the opportunity to substitute regular french fries out for them, I will, no questions asked. So when I started cooking more at home, and I realized just how easy they were to make, I felt like a dummy for always thinking that I had to go out to get them. It's funny how we get like that, isn't it?

Anyhow, it's super easy, and they taste great. The kids went nuts over them, and since they're baked instead of fried I'm telling myself that they are "healthy".

What you'll need:
3 Medium Sweet Potatoes, Peeled and sliced into french fries (I suggest using a mandolin for the slicing, it was SOOO easy)
Olive Oil for tossing
Salt & Pepper to taste

How it's done: 
1. Preheat your oven to 450*F. Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper.
2. Toss fries in a bowl with just enough olive oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Lay fries out on the baking sheet, be sure they don't touch each other if you like them crispy.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, turning them over at 15 minutes.

** One of the great things about this recipe is that you can sub out the salt and pepper for nearly any seasoning or spice that you would like. Cinnamon, Sugar, Paprika, Seasoning, Kosher Salt... Get creative!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Cauliflower Garlic Mash

♥ Beginner

Our house is full of mashed potato lovers. If I made them every night, they would eat them every.single.night.

So, I decided to try an alternative - Cauliflower. I didn't get it past them without them noticing that it wasn't mashed potatoes, but they liked it just the same. In fact, my son (who's not even two) ate all of his, and then made the rounds eating everyone else's leftovers.

What you'll need: 
1 head of Cauliflower
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. Minced Garlic
Salt & Pepper to taste
Parmesan Cheese, if you're into that sort of thing.

How it's done: 
1. Clean, and cut your cauliflower into florettes. Boil them in a saucepan for 8 minutes.
2. Pat them dry, and then throw them into the food processor. Add olive oil, garlic, and cheese, and blend until smooth and creamy.

Ta-Da! Enjoy.

Chicken Marsala-Zinfandel

♥♥ Intermediate

I'm going to start by saying that some of the best things happen by accident. Or laziness. Usually by accident, and sometimes by laziness. Okay, or both.

This meal sort of just "happened" when I was too lazy to find the correct Marsala wine at the grocery store. I got tired of looking, and had two kids going crazy, so I just grabbed a Red Wine that looked decent and went with it. It's an Old Vine Zinfandel (Red), and I never would have known that it would be such a good pairing with chicken and mushrooms. So here we go, a spin on an old classic. Enjoy (we sure did)!

What you'll need:
1 1/2 Lb. Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast (Pounded Down to 1/2")
Salt & Pepper to Taste
1/3 Cup + 1 Tbsp. Flour
5 Tbsp. Olive Oil
5 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
8 oz. Mushrooms (Sliced) <-- I used canned Mushrooms, totally a no-no anymore.
1 Clove of Garlic, Minced
1/3 Cup Old Vine Zinfandel Wine (Red)
1/3 Cup Chicken Stock

How it's done: 
1. After pounding chicken, season with salt & pepper and then dredge with 1/3 C. Flour.
2. Heat 2 Tbsp. Oil & 1 Tbsp. Butter in a skillet over med-high heat. Add Chicken and cook, turning once, until golden brown. (About 3-5 Minutes). Transfer the chicken to a plate, and set aside.
3. Add 2 Tbsp. Oil & 1 Tbsp. Butter to the skillet, and then add the mushrooms. Cook until browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer to the plate of chicken and set aside.
4. Heat remaining oil in skillet, and then add garlic. Stir continuously for 1 minute, then add 1 Tbsp. Flour, and continue stirring for another 2 minutes. Add Wine and Chicken Stock, and continue stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan until thick, about 2 minutes.
5. Add mushrooms and chicken back into pan, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining butter.

I served this Chicken Marsala-Zinfandel with Challah Bread and Cauliflower Mash. So, so good.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Crazy Good Smothered Chicken

♥♥♥ Advanced

We're just going to call it "Crazy Good Smothered Chicken" because it is CRAZY GOOD. As in, it was the perfect Valentine's Dinner. And was crazy good. Are you getting the idea?

I'm not usually a mushroom eater. (I usually slide them all off of my chicken piccata.) But I ate every.bite.of.this. So if there's an ingredient here that you just find to be repulsive, try it anyway because you'll likely like it.

What you'll need: 

1 Large Bunch of Spinach Leaves
4 oz. Cream Cheese
1/4 C. Parmesian Cheese, shredded
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. Onion Powder
Salt & Pepper to taste

8 Oz. Package of Mushrooms, Sliced
4 Tbsp. Butter
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 C. White Wine ****
Salt & Pepper to taste

4-5 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
8-10 Slices of Mozzarella cheese, cut thinly
1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
Salt & Pepper to taste

How it's done: 

1. Preheat oven to 350*F, and season both sides of chicken breasts with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes.

2. While chicken is in the oven, make the creamed spinach. Over medium heat heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add in the onion powder, garlic, and spinach and cook until spinach is wilted. When it's cooked through, add in the cream cheese and Parmesan. Continue cooking, stirring continuously, until the cream cheese has melted. Remove from heat.

3. In another skillet, melt the butter and olive oil over medium high heat. Add in the mushrooms and cook until browned. Do not season with salt until after the mushrooms have browned, or they will never brown. Deglaze the pan with the wine, and then add in the garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook until most of the wine is cooked out.

4. Now it's time to assemble your chicken! Divide up the spinach and mushrooms and cover over each breast. Top all of the chicken breasts with the slices of Mozzarella cheese. Cook in the over for another 12-14 minutes until the cheese has browned.

Seriously, this gets 5 stars in my household. I hope your's likes it too!

**** For my friends who choose not to cook with wine, you can substitue 1/2 C. Chicken Stock + 1/2 Tbsp. of White Wine Vinegar.

Adapted from this recipe here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

♥♥ Intermediate

It's no secret that I'm not much of a casserole person. I do however, love Chicken Cordon Bleu. And the thought of an easy, inexpensive, and tasty way to enjoy my beloved dish sent me over the moon. It was a big hit with the kids, only took a minor amount of preparation, and was pretty good. Try it for yourself and see what you think. (Sorry, no photos of it on a plate - it was super messy coming out of the pan, and really wasn't very pretty!)

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole - Love with recipeWhat you'll need:

1 Rotisserie Chicken (roughly 4 cups chopped)
1/2 lb. Deli Style Honey Ham, thinly sliced and rough chopped
1/4 lb. Baby Swiss Cheese, thinly sliced

4 Tbsp. Butter
4 Tbsp. All-Purpose Flour
3 + 1/4 C. Milk
2 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
Pinch of Salt
Pinch of Pepper
Pinch of Paprika

3 Tbsp. Butter, Melted
2 C. Panko Bread Crumbs

How it's done:

1. Grease a 9x13 Cooking Dish, and preheat oven to 375*F.
2. In the following order, layer the ingredients in the dish. Chicken, Ham, and Swiss Cheese. Set dish aside.
3. In a sauce pan, melt the butter over med-high heat. Once melted, whisk in the flour. Once combined, add the cold milk and whisk until combined and starting to thicken. Add lemon juice, salt, pepper, and paprika. Whisk constantly while sauce thickens. Once it begins to lightly boil, remove from the heat.
4. Pour sauce on top of the swiss cheese in your dish, making sure to get it around all sides.
5. Melt remaining butter, and combine with Panko. Spread on top of dish.
6. Cook for 45 minutes, and let stand for 5-10 before serving.

 This recipe was adapted from here.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wonton Soup

♥ Beginner

When I was at the store a week or so ago, I was just looking for ANYTHING that didn't include dyes and preservatives. Somehow a package of wonton wrappers made it's way into my cart, and home with me. I've never had any desire to make wonton anything. I didn't even know how to use them. I guess I was just excited by the prospect of something that I could actually BUY.

Anyhow, they've sat in my fridge, just staring at me ever since. I've combed Pinterest looking for ideas of fun desserts that I can make with them, or something that was creative. Alas, I settled on just trying our own Wonton Soup. It actually turned out pretty good if I do say so myself. 

For being a 'foodie', I really shouldn't be called that, because I've never used ground PORK before. Ever. It's embarrassing really. It surprisingly tasty, and fairly easy to work with. And the fat content... wow, that stuff could hold anything together. 

Wonton Soup is not something that I would ever order at a Chinese restaurant. It's not a soup I "have to have" or even really care to make, but it was a really great dinner on a super cold winter night. The extra helping of Soy Sauce may have helped some too. 

What you'll need: 

1/2 lb Lean Ground Pork
1 Large Egg
2 Green Onions, Chopped
1 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
Salt & Pepper to taste
Approx. 30 Wonton Wrappers
2 Liters of Low Sodium Chicken Broth

How it's done: 

1. In a large bowl, combine the Pork, Egg, Soy Sauce, and Green Onion. (If you use a wooden spoon to combine it, it will hold together much better. 
2. Lay out all of your wonton wrappers on a flat surface. Place 1 teaspoon (it doesn't seem like enough, but it is!) of the pork mixture on the middle of the wonton. *Note: You don't want to over-stuff them or they won't cook through completely!) Moisten edges of wonton with water and your finger. Fold opposite corners together and pull back the opposite corners. 
3. In a large saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Drop in wontons and let them cook for 15 minutes. 
4. Garnish with green onions and enjoy! 

And extras too! 
The kids loved it. Score!
**If you want to get really creative, you can add things like garlic, red pepper flakes, or sesame oil to your filling.