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Fire Roasted Salsa

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My go-to salsa during winter when fresh tomatoes aren't available is the Pioneer Woman's Restaurant Style Salsa.  It has an impressive flavor and is quick and easy to boot.  I've made it dozens of times, and each time there's just never enough, even though it makes a ton.

I can't remember if this salsa remix was born out of the desire to experiment or just because I didn't have plain tomatoes, but a couple weeks ago I decided to try making the salsa with fire roasted tomatoes instead of plain ones.  This discovery has to rank right up there with sliced bread.  It's more complex- slightly smoky, spicy, and the flavor just feels...deeper.  It's so good!

Fire Roasted Salsa
makes approx. 3 cups salsa

1 (14-15 oz) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 (10 oz) can Rotel
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 - 1 whole chipotle in adobo, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp coriander seed or 2-4 tb. cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, grated or pressed, or 1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2- 1 lemon, juiced

In a blender or food processor combine all ingredients and pulse or process until it reaches desired consistency.  Serve immediately or store in refrigerator.



Meatless Mondays: Skillet Baked Ziti

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Y'all, I have had this recipe in the stack for almost seven years.  It was way past time to try this one out, and now that I did, I know I'll be going back again and again.  This baked ziti is easy, quick, and tasty, and has a big bonus: the leftovers stay moist and well sauced, which as you may know, is a hazard with baked pasta dishes.  Both Drew and I really enjoyed this.  Drew even said it may be the best he's had, which is saying a lot, because he used to live in Upstate New York, where there's a lot of Italian influence.



The recipe comes to us from America's Test Kitchen, and I love their recipes and their PBS show.  The recipes come to you after a ton of testing, and they are thorough and leave next to nothing to chance.  I made a couple changes to the original recipe so I'll post the original and my own changes side by side.



Skillet Baked Ziti
from America's Test Kitchen

Serves 4

1 Tb Olive Oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
3 cups water
12 oz. (3 3/4 cups) ziti (I used penne rigate)
1/2 cup heavy cream (I used half and half)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves (about 2 tsp dried-see notes)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Making the Minutes Count:  Measure the water and pasta before you begin cooking.  Prep the Parmesan and basil while the pasta cooks.

Simmer Ziti:  Combine oil, garlic, pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a 12 inch, ovensafe nonstick skillet and saute over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add tomatoes, water, ziti, and 1/2 tsp. salt.  Cover and cook, stirring often and adjusting heat as needed to maintain vigorous simmer, until ziti is almost tender, 15-18 minutes.

Add Cheese and Bake:  Stir in cream, Parmesan, and basil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over ziti.  Transfer skillet to oven and bake until cheese has melted and browned, about 10 minutes.  Serve.

Notes

  • All of my modifications here are based off what I had on hand, which were penne rigate, half and half, and dried basil.
  • A good tip I have learned from some food mentors is to rub the herbs in between your palms to sort of wake up the flavors before you add it to your dish.
  • I don't have a 12 inch nonstick ovensafe skillet.  I used my 12 inch saute pot (a shorter pot) that is not nonstick.  It worked fine.  I bet enameled cast iron would work great here.
  • We made the recipe without meat, but I bet some cooked ground beef, Italian sausage, or cooked, cubed chicken stirred in with the cheese and cream would be a good modification.


Cowboy Beans

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With the country standing at the cusp of grilling season (sounds so dramatic, doesn't it?), this dish is one you'll want to make again and again.  It's one of those recipes that you unfortunately won't have a lot of leftovers if you take it to a potluck and one that almost everyone will ask for the recipe.



I first found out about these beans at a fire station Christmas dinner when Leslie, the captain's wife, made a big pan of them.  Everyone went crazy over these beans, and now she has to make them every Christmas my husband's crew works.  I later found a recipe on Pinterest and recently took it to a family fish fry, so now I'm sharing it with you.


These beans are hearty and tasty, and make a ton, so there's plenty to go around.  The only downside is that meat automatically makes a recipe more expensive (what are they feeding these cows, gold?) but it stretches pretty far here, so I could justify it.

Cowboy Beans
adapted from this recipe

makes approx. 4-5 quarts beans

1(28 oz) can (or 2- 15 oz cans) baked beans or pork 'n beans
1 (15 oz) can of butter beans
1 (15 oz) can of Kidney beans
1 lb ground beef
2 chopped onions
1 c of orange, yellow or red pepper, diced
2 cans of tomato soup undiluted
1/2 cup of brown sugar

Preheat your oven to 350.  In a large pot (7 quarts) over medium-high heat, add the onions, pepper, and ground beef.  Cook until beef is browned and onions and peppers are softened. Drain if needed (depends on the fat content of beef). Combine all the above ingredients. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 1 hour. 


Slow Cooker Turkey Meatloaf

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A while back, Drew and I decided we should try to be champions of the slow cooker.  We're not quite there yet, but we're working on it.  This recipe for slow cooker turkey meatloaf will definitely be one we will make again.  Thanks to friends Charlotte and Amanda for giving me the recipe!

I'll be up front that at first I wasn't sure about this meatloaf.  I didn't love it at first bite.  I didn't really know what I thought, but as I ate on it a little more, I really started to like it.  It feels lighter and healthier than a lot of meat dishes.  I really enjoyed the vegetables flecked through the meatloaf.  One thing that I think is a real key in liking any healthy food makeover is not expecting it to taste like the regular version of itself.  Just be open to it tasting like its own thing.  Turkey will never be beef, spaghetti squash will never be spaghetti.  Amen.

One more quick note- turkey is easily overmixed, so when mixing it, use a light hand (don't squish the turkey down and together) and only mix until everything looks pretty well incorporated.

Slow Cooker Turkey Meatloaf
source unknown

feeds 4

1 lb ground turkey
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup diced yellow onion (about 1/2 large onion)
1/2 cup diced bell pepper (about 1 pepper)
1 cup whole grain or whole wheat plain or panko bread crumbs
Kosher salt to taste
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/3 cup tomato or vegetable juice (no sugar added)
1/3 cup ketchup

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except ketchup and mix until just combined.  Lightly spray or coat the bottom and sides of a 6 quart slow cooker with oil.  Shape the meatloaf mixture into a loaf form and place in the slow cooker.  You may need to reshape as you place in the slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low 5-6 hours, adding the ketchup on top the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Notes

  • For easier removal, line the slow cooker with a long strip of foil and just lift the meatloaf out, foil and all.
  • Drew helped me out by watching the meatloaf.  I think it was done in about four hours' time in our cooker.  
  • This one fell apart a little for me.  I think I may have undermixed, but I'd rather do that than overmix. 

Homemade Rainbow Sprinkle Frosting

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This frosting.  Oh, this frosting.  If you're below the age of 40, you know it well.  It adorned at least half the cupcakes you ate as a child, and I have also been known to eat it as a dip with graham crackers.  So creamy, so tasty.  So discontinued.  A generation mourns.  There are imitators out there, but it's just not the same.

Until now, when it gets better.  I found this recipe for a homemade version on Pinterest, and it really does have the taste and close to the texture of the original.  Unfortunately, no homemade frosting will ever perfectly mimic the texture of canned frosting because it's more of a science project than food, and all those hydrogenated oils, syrups, and shelf stabilizers give it the texture we know (and many of us, like me, prefer).  This recipe, though, with its cream cheese icing base, comes pretty close to being that creamy, sort of light, spreadable frosting texture.  The flavor of this frosting is amazing, and since you make it, you of course get to play with how it tastes.

I made it for my sister's birthday and frosted these cupcakes with it, and everyone enjoyed them.

Homemade Rainbow Sprinkle Frosting
slightly adapted from this blog

Frosts 1- 9x13 cake or 24 cupcakes

8 ounces cream cheese (light or regular - not nonfat), at room temperature
8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used clear imitation vanilla flavoring for color)
1/4 cup rainbow sprinkles, jimmies, chips of your choice

Using a stand mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until light and fluffy ,about 3 minutes.

Beat in half the confectioners' sugar until combined, add the remaining half and the vanilla extract.

Beat on medium 5 minutes until light and fluffy, stopping to check the consistency every few minutes. If it seems too thick you can add a teaspoon of heavy cream or half & half, too thin add a few more tablespoons confectioners' sugar.

Stir in the rainbow chips by hand. Use immediately.

Notes

  • This frosting freezes well.  Just thaw in fridge
  • Store any leftover frosting and anything you frost with it in the fridge.
  • Freshly made, it is that soft, canned-icing texture.  Once refrigerated, it has to warm a bit.

For Your Weekend: Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken

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Last weekend I made this dish for dinner and wanted to tell you about it.  This sweet and sour chicken was so good!



Earlier on, I needed some meal inspiration.  I wanted to make something a little different, but still fairly healthy, and since Aldi had pineapples for $1 and I had a ripening one on my counter I wanted to use, I searched my Pinterest board of food to try and this one jumped out at me.  It was so pretty!  It uses pineapple!  It's baked!



It was delicious.  Both Drew and I really enjoyed it, and Drew doesn't like a lot of Asian inspired food.  The vegetables made it feel healthy (please tell me it is), the spice was just right, and the balance of the salty, sweet, and sour flavors was spot on.  I'm very glad it was delicious, because it took three hours to make it.  Three hours!  I am sure that when I make it again I could streamline it, but there is a lot of prep work involved in this dish, and that's why I suggest it for the weekend.  It's a lot more ingredients and a lot more work than a lot of things I make, but it really is very good, and it's sometimes nice to do bigger meals when you have more time.



Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken
slightly changed from Carlsbad Cravings blog

Chicken Breading
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 ½ pounds), cut in bite-size pieces
3 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 1/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Sweet and Sour Sauce
1/2 cup pineapple juice (from 20 oz. pineapple tidbits can below)
1 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons ketchup (6 tablespoons)
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder

Vegetables/Pineapple
1 (20 oz) can pineapple tidbits (or 3/4 of a medium ripe pineapple, cut into chunks)
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup carrots, sliced as THIN as possible (2-3 carrots)

Add "Sweet and Sour Sauce" ingredients to a medium/large saucepan, stir and bring to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer. Allow to simmer while you prepare the chicken and dice the vegetables, stirring occasionally (turn off if longer than 20 minutes). Note, the sauce will not thicken, simmering is to soften the onions and blend flavors.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray (or line with foil and then grease).
Whisk eggs together in a large bowl, set aside. Add ½ cup flour to a large freezer bag; set aside next to eggs. Whisk cornstarch, garlic powder, salt, pepper, ginger powder and onion powder in medium bowl; set aside next to flour.

Add chicken to eggs and coat, then remove, allowing excess to drip off, then add to freezer bag with flour. Toss until evenly coated then discard any extra flour. Add cornstarch/spices to the chicken in the freezer bag and shake until evenly coated.

Over high heat, heat enough oil (any kind) to generously cover the bottom of a large skillet until hot and rippling. Add chicken and cook 1-2 minutes per side, or until browned but not cooked through. (You may need to cook in 2 batches depending on size of your skillet). Transfer chicken to prepared 9x13 baking dish.

Add carrots pineapple and peppers to the sweet and sauce and mix until well combined. Pour sauce over chicken and stir until sauce/chicken/vegetables are evenly combined. Cook, uncovered for 50 minutes or until sauce, stirring occasionally.
Serve over rice. Enjoy!



Notes

  • The original recipe called for 1.5 cups sugar.  I just couldn't bring myself to use that much, so I took a chance and halved the amount.  It still turned out great.  I may even reduce it more next time.
  • I had to cook my chicken in batches, and I was not crazy about the crust formed.  It was reminiscent of commercially available sweet and sour chicken, but was still soft.  I might try leaving it off entirely the next time I make it.  If you like breading, leave it.
  • I didn't have enough ginger powder, but I had fresh ginger in my freezer.  I used that in the sauce, because in my opinion, that's where the flavor really matters.
  • I also didn't have any large colored bell peppers, but I had a lot of mini colored peppers, so I used several of them- maybe 5-6.  
  • I may even increase the vegetable ratio next time.

Apple and Cabbage Salad

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This one may seem a little strange at the outset, but don't write it off just yet.  I decided to try it just because the picture was so pretty.  

Popsugar posted this recipe a little over a week after New Year's, and I suspect they were trying to catch everyone's eye with the word "detox" in the article title.  Either way, this salad is a tasty and healthy addition to your lunchtime rotation.  Its fiber content makes it filling enough for a light meal, but it makes for a nice deviation to the standard side salad if it's served alongside a piece of chicken or fish.  



The whole dish feels pretty substantial, because of the heartiness of the cabbage and the crispness of the apples.  The walnuts add a really nice something extra, too.  I hope if you try it you enjoy it as much as I did!  Oh, and due to ingredient availability or my own lack of desire to buy certain items, I changed it just a little.  Click on the recipe title to link back to the original!

adapted slightly from Candice Kumai

feeds 4 meal portions or 6-8 side portions

1/2 head Savoy cabbage
1/2 head red cabbage
1 apple 
1 shallot
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped and toasted

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Using a mandoline or sharp knife, thinly slice the cabbage, apple, and shallot to resemble extremely fine confetti; transfer to a large bowl.
Add the walnuts and toss gently to combine.
In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing.
Top the salad with the dressing. Using salad tongs, mix until evenly dressed.

*Note: this salad will keep in a resealable container in the fridge for 3-5 days.