'tis the season: crunchy chicken spring rolls, panko crusted crab cakes, bacon-wrapped shrimp, peanut chicken skewers, & mini beef tenderloin sandwiches

>> Sunday, December 27, 2009

the holiday season is official over and sis and i can finally get back to you guys.  we've had a busy couple of weeks with an unruly snow blizzard, puppy babysitting and visitors galore.  we had to cancel peg's first annual christmas party after waking up to 20 inches of snow last saturday morning.  never one to just give up, i decided to whip up some of the appetizers i had planned to make, just in much fewer quantities.  some of the recipes can be found at the link above and the others are listed below.

crunchy chicken spring rolls

bacon-wrapped shrimp with basil garlic stuffing

peanut chicken skewers with chili mayo

panko crusted crab cakes with spicy avocado aioli

mini beef tenderloin sandwiches with mustard-horseradish sauce

crunchy chicken spring rolls
(adapted from martha)
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup minced celery
1/4 cup grated carrot
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1/2 cup grated cabbage
1/4 cup sugar snap peas, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, plus more for frying
20 spring roll wrappers
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

heat oil in large saucepan over medium high heat. add chicken, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, sugar snap peas, cabbage, fish sauce and soy sauce. cook for about 4 minutes and season with pepper. remove from heat and set up a work station. beat egg and water in small dish to make an egg wash. cover wonton wrappers with damp paper towels to prevent from drying out while making the spring rolls. working quickly, place about a tablespoon or more of chicken mixture in corner of wrapper. (you will need to fold this spring roll like you would fold a burrito.) roll up corner until you cannot see mixture anymore. fold up sides to meet in the middle and continue to roll into right cylinder. brush top corner with egg wash and seal. cover rolls with damp paper towel as you continue to make the others. heat oil in large skillet to 350 degrees. working in batches, fry up spring rolls for about 2 to 3 minutes, placing on paper towel to absorb left over oil. you must continually turn rolls to make sure they don't burn. serve immediately with asian duck sauce.

panko crusted crab cakes with spicy avocado aioli
(adapted from cooking light)

16 oz crab meat
1.5 cups panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup diced celery
1/2 cup mayo
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 egg
1 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
couple dashes of hot sauce

preheat oven to 450 degrees. combine crab, 1/2 cup panko, celery, 1/4 cup mayo, egg, dijon mustard, worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and s&p in a mixing bowl.  stir together and form into 2 inch crab cakes. place remaining panko on plate and roll each crab cake into breadcrumbs, making sure they stick.  place crab cakes on non-stick baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

combine 1/4 cup of mayo, sour cream, avocado, hot sauce and s&p in food processor and blend.  once crab crabs are finished, scoop a little of the avocado aioli on each.  serve immediately.

and don't forget the other recipes:
bacon-wrapped shrimp with basil garlic stuffing
peanut chicken skewers with chili mayo
mini beef tenderloin sandwiches with mustard-horseradish sauce
the impromptu family party was a a hit, including a round of drunken dominoes till 3 a.m. and this little pup came just in time to enjoy the holidays with us.


layer up: brie chicken salad

>> Thursday, December 17, 2009

this week i've been trying to make meals with stuff we already had in the fridge.  i saw a huge block of brie cheese and immediately knew i wanted to incorporate the gooey deliciousness into dinner.  i came up with a layered salad that was inspired by robin miller's grilled chicken with brie and baby spinach recipe.  here's what we got.

4 chicken breasts
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
8 slices of brie cheese
4 cups of lettuce (any kind your heart desires)
4 small red potatoes, quartered
1 bunch of asparagus (about a pound), trimmed
4 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
your favorite balsamic vinaigrette

preheat oven to 400 degrees.  line baking sheet with foil, season potatoes with evoo and s&p and cook for about 15 minutes.  once those are done add asapargus to baking sheet and cook for an additional 10 to 12 minutes.

meanwhile, preheat grill pan to medium high heat.  season both sides of chicken with s&p and garlic powder.  cook chicken about 4 to 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness.  add two slices of brie to each chicken and cover pan with aluminum foil or the top to the pan.  let the brie melt for about 2 minutes.

to serve dish, get a large oval serving platter and add lettuce.  add roasted potatoes to one side, put the chicken in the middle and add the asapargus to the other side.  garnish with bacon and drizzle your favorite balsamic vinaigrette over it. 

this was a really simple, easy recipe.  its great for those who say they don't eat salads.  i got tony to eat a whole plateful of spinach and he didn't even realize, not to mention he gobbled up some asparagus too.


good things coming to cotton top

>> Tuesday, December 8, 2009

next weekend, peg is hosting her first annual cotton top christmas bash.  she has asked me to cater the party where the guest list will be anywhere from 30 to 45 people.  my heart is filled with culinary glee as i have begun to plan out the menu.  my girl ina taught me the best way to host a successful party is to make half of your food in advance and the other half right before the party.  you'll notice half of the menu can be served at room temperature or cold. here's what i have going on so far:
  1. panko crusted crab cakes with spicy avocado aioli*
  2. bacon-wrapped shrimp with basil garlic stuffing
  3. mini beef tenderloin sandwiches with mustard-horseradish sauce
  4. vegetable spring rolls with sweet dipping sauce*
  5. layered sundried tomato and basil cheese spread
  6. prosciutto crostini with lemon fennel salad
  7. peanut chicken skewers with chili mayo
  8. spiced mixed nuts*
  9. vegetable crudite platter with green goddess dressing
* these recipes are messy chef originals.  i will post the recipes the day after the bash.
    is your mouth watering yet? i hope the guests are hungry. 
    stay tuned for pictures.


      cheese squared: potato chip crusted chicken and cheesy grits

      >> Wednesday, December 2, 2009

      let's call it a weak moment, shall we? by the end of "tomato week" i had had enough of eating healthy and wanted to splurge a little.  meagan shared the same sentiments as me and requested something really cheesy.  i whipped up potato chip crusted chicken and cheesy grits.  and a little broccoli so we didn't feel too guilty. 

      chicken breast
      crushed up sour cream and cheddar chips
      3 cups of chicken stock
      3/4 cup of 5-minute grits
      1/4 cup velvetta, plus extra if you're feeling generous

      preheat oven to 350 degrees. pound out chicken breasts, until about 1/2 inch thick. brush some evoo over chicken and season with s&p.  coat chicken with crushed potato chips, press down to make sure they stick.  cook for 20 minutes or until done, flipping halfway through.  this will ensure that both sides get crispy.  in another pan bring chicken stock to boil. add grits and cook for 5 minutes. stir in velvetta cheese and s&p. cook broccoli in vegetable steamer for 10 minutes.  season with evoo and s&p.

      the results were well worth any self-inflicting guilt i may have imposed on myself.  next time you're having one of those days, go ahead and try this cheesy decadence. i promise you'll fall in love.


      easy as 1, 2, 3: oven-roasted tilapia with couscous and warm tomato vinaigrette

      >> Monday, November 30, 2009

      remember that time ago, when we talked about all those tomatoes we had and the meals i had planned?  my guess is probably not, seeing that it was two weeks ago.  anywho, i got this recipe from cooking light and only changed things up a tiny bit.

      i was pleased the way this turned out.  the warm tomatoes gave a great flavor contrast to the tilapia and the israeli couscous served as the perfect bed to soak up all the leftover juices.  here's how i did it.

      2 garlic cloves
      1 cup tomato, chopped
      3 tablespoons of lemon juice
      2/3 cup israeli couscous
      1 cup chicken stock
      4 tilapia filets
      8 lemon slices
      parsley, for garnish

      preheat oven to 350 degrees.  season fish with evoo and s&p.  lay two lemon slices on each piece of fish and cook for 20 minutes.

      in another saucepan, combine couscous with evoo and cook for 5 minutes.  add chicken stock and bring to a boil.  reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes until liquid is absorbed.

      add evoo and garlic to another skillet over medium-high heat.  add tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes.  remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and s&p.

      to plate this dish, place a heaping spoon full of couscous on plate.  place fish on top of that.  scoop 1/4 of tomato sauce over fish, letting is drip down the sides.  garnish with parsley and you're done. super easy.


      giving thanks

      i wanted to give a big thank you to my friend kim and her boyfriend david for giving me the best gift of all this holiday season - 3 pound wedge of jarlsberg cheese.  david found the entire wheel mis-priced at harris teeter for only $7.  lucky for me, david is a pale and believes us pales should stick together and handed over some.

      i immediately knew that i wanted to whip up some cheese fondue with this decadent treat as a thanksgiving appetizer.  i served it with sourdough bread, broccoli, cauliflower and chunks of salami.  needless to say, there wasn't much left over to take any pictures.

      thanks again.  loves ya both.


      surprise! grilled chicken with goat cheese cream sauce

      >> Friday, November 20, 2009

      i love surprises. i really do. and this week i got a really pleasant one. after being stuck in traffic for 1+ hours, i walked into cotton top, opened the door and smelt the aroma of goat cheese melting. peg decided to give me a break and cooked up wednesday night's meal all by herself. the recipe was from real simple and it was delicious and heavenly. here's how she did it.
      4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
      1 tablespoon olive oil
      2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
      1 teaspoon kosher salt
      freshly ground black pepper
      1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
      1 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
      1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
      4 ounces soft goat cheese

      using a rolling pin, pound the chicken between 2 sheets of wax paper until they are of uniform thickness. heat the oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers and the garlic browns. don't burn the garlic or you'll have to start over. add the chicken breasts and cook until golden, 3 to 5 minutes on each side. add the salt, pepper, chicken broth, thyme, and lemon zest. cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 3 minutes longer or until the chicken is fork-tender. remove the chicken to a platter and keep warm. increase heat to high and boil the sauce until thickened or syrupy, 3 to 5 minutes. whisk in the goat cheese and pour the sauce over the chicken.  i added a little parsley over the top to finish off the dish.

      side note: the sauce was a little grainy, but i think that is because we did not buy the best of the best goat cheese.  if you want to make the dish even more tasty, i would splurge for the higher-end brand of goat cheese, something really creamy.


      ariba, ariba: chorizo quesadillas with fresh salsa and stuffed tomatoes

      >> Thursday, November 19, 2009

      earlier this week, i whipped up these tasty quesadillas for the fam.  i used chorizo sausage to spice things up and made a quick homemade salsa to cool things down.  i've made these stuffed tomatoes before - they are a good go-to recipe whenever you're cooking up some mexi flavors.  there are no real measurements for this recipe, because it all depends on your preference and how much heat you like.

      chorizo sausage, removed from castings and browned
      cheddar cheese
      velvetta cheese

      combine tomatoes, garlic, onion, jalapeno, cilantro and s&p in food processor.  pulse for a few seconds until it all comes together.  in a medium sauce pan melt velvetta cheese and half of salsa mixture until it turns into a creamy concoction. heat grill pan or large skillet over medium low heat and spray with nonstick cooking spray.  spread velvetta cheese all over tortilla, just until you reach the end.  add chorizo and top with cheddar cheese.  fold in half and cook on each side for about 5-6 minutes until the cheesy has melted and the sides are brown.  top with sour cream and the homemade salsa!  and there you have it - mexican in a flash.


      this week in the kitchen

      >> Tuesday, November 17, 2009

      here's what we got going on this week at cotton top.  you'll notice this week's menu incorporates a lot of tomatoes.  our grandma hand picked a bushel of tomatoes in north carolina a couple of weeks ago and graciously left an entire basket for us!

      tuesday: chorizo quesadillas with fresh salsa and stuffed tomatoes
      wednesday: lemon chicken with goat cheese sauce
      thursday: oven-roasted halibut with couscous and warm tomato vinaigrette
      friday: potato chip crusted chicken and cheesy grits (at meagan's request)

      (photo credits -blog.menupages.com)


      66 percent: sausage and zucchini pasta and sesame ginger steak with scallion rice

      that ain't so bad right?  if it were a test grade, i would hate myself.  but luckily, the number i'm referring to is actually the percentage of meals i made last week versuses the the number of meals i had planned to make.  no excuses really, except that ton bribed us with bonefish one of the nights - its really hard to turn down that firecracker shrimp.

      the first night i was going to make chorizo and zucchini pasta, but ended up using andouille instead.  this type of sausage is predominately used in cajun cooking, has a unique smoky flavor and gets its reddish tint from spices such as paprika and cayenne pepper.  this dish turned out great and i don't believe there were any leftovers.  i followed the recipe almost exactly, except i probably added a little more cheese then needed.

      the second recipe i planned to make was sesame ginger steak with scallion rice.  this was one of those week night meals that came together in a flash and required no real culinary skills. (i've talked about the scallion rice before - click on the link for the recipe.)

      1 lb flank steak, cut into strips
      8oz water chestnuts, sliced
      1 red pepper, cut into strips
      1 bunch of asparagus, cut into thirds
      2 carrots, cut into strips
      1/2 onion, sliced
      2 garlic cloves
      3/4 cup lawry's sesame ginger marinade
      2 tablespoons of canola oil
      soy sauce, to taste

      heat oil up in large wok and add steak and cook for about 4 minutes.  add rest of vegetables and cook for another 5 minutes, just until vegetables began to soften.  add marinade for the last 2 minutes and season with soy sauce.  serve on top of garlic scallion rice and you've got yourself a quick asian sensation.

      forgot to take pictures of the final results.  when we're hungry, we're hungry.
      no time to take pictures.
      (photo credits - alamy.com)

      UPDATE: apparently, i did take pictures and forgot.  enjoy :)


      inspector gadget: part 2

      >> Thursday, November 12, 2009

      it happens to all of us.  we're at a cocktail party.  one hand holds a bubbly glass of champagne.  the other holds a delicious hors d’oeuvre.  no table is in sight, we're trying to be social with the other guests and we can't seem to balance eating and drinking.  before we know it, wine has spilled down our silk dress and the hors d’oeuvre has become a flavor-savor on our chin.

      no need to worry anymore.  these foodie geniuses have created food plates for your fingers.  it slips on like a ring and will hold any delectable treat.  be sure to snatch these up for the holiday season.  you'll look like a graceful eater and you'll be the topic of conversation.

      (photo credits - wishingfish.com)


      this week in the kitchen

      >> Monday, November 9, 2009

      sis is back here in virginia with me this week and i couldn't be happier.  it did take some convincing on my part to get her to stay the entire week, but she agreed if i promised to work out with her everyday and if i cooked her healthy delicious meals.

      on that note, here's what we got going on at cotton top this week. tuesday and friday will serve as left-over nights.

      tonight: blackened tilapia with roasted broccoli and israeli couscous
      wednesday: chorizo and zucchini pasta
      thursday: sesame ginger steak with scallion rice


      anddddd im done: lemongrass coconut soup

      >> Wednesday, November 4, 2009

      you know that list i've been talking about non-stop for the past 10 days? believe it or not, i was able to accomplish just about everything.  within 24 hours i was able to make a halloween costume, cook up some lemongrass coconut soup for the neighbors and make the owl cupcakes. the soup was really easy to make and turned out to be real tasty, with the perfect hint of heat in the back of your throat (recipe below).  getting all this done was a close call and i couldn't have done it without my rhyming friends-  peg and megg. 

      drum roll, please...

      stirring up the lemongrass coconut soup
      recipe courtesy of tyler florence


      hooooo, hooooo, eat me!

      (the completed look - with megg)
      for a good clean feeling, no matter what!


      pick your pasta: pumpkin raviolis, meat/cheese raviolis, and spaghetti squash

      >> Tuesday, November 3, 2009

      as you may recall, one of my tasks last week was to get brother to eat homemade pumpkin ravioli. of course, i knew i needed a backup plan in case he wasn't feeling it. so my mission became pasta three ways -

      1. seasonal pumpkin raviolis
      2. traditional raviolis filled with beef and cheese
      3. and spaghetti squash - i was very proud of my pasta creativity here.

      i made up the recipes on the fly, so there are no real measurements. 
      warning:  it was a little time consuming to make each individual ravioli, but hey, no pain, no gain...right?

      wonton wrappers
      ricotta cheese
      parmesan cheese
      mozzarella cheese
      canned pumpkin
      ground beef
      spaghetti squash

      spaghetti squash directions:
      pierce spaghetti squash with knife or fork and place in 375 degree oven for 1 hour.  once it has cooked and cooled, cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds with spoon.  using a fork, shred the remaining inside of the squash - it will look like strings of spaghetti.  mix together with a little pasta sauce, parmesan cheese and s&p.

      moving on to the raviolis:
      lay about 3-4 paper towels on cookie sheet and spread pumpkin evenly over it.  top with 3 more paper towels.  let this sit for about 5 minutes.  this will remove the excess water from the pumpkin and will guarantee your filling won't be runny.  scoop pumpkin off paper towels and add to bowl with an equal part of ricotta cheese. add couple tablespoons of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, a pinch of nutmeg, chopped parsley and s&p. in another bowl, mix together cooked ground beef, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, breadcrumbs, basil and s&p.

      now here comes the time-consuming part:

      lay out wonton wrappers one at a time and scoop mini spoonfuls of either mixture into center.  be sure not to overfill or else they will explode when you cook them. wet edges of the wonton wrapper with water using your fingers and place another wonton wrapper on top.  secure all edges of wrapper to make sure there are no air bubbles or holes. repeat again and again and again.  be sure to cover the wonton wrappers with a damp paper towel before and after you assemble them.  if you don't, they will began to crack and get dry, making them hard to work with.

      working in batches, cook raviolis in boiling salted water until they rise to the top.  this should only take about 4 to 5 minutes. once done, immediately mix together with your favorite pasta sauce.  i whipped up an easy alfredo sauce for the pumpkin ravs and used a jarred pasta sauce for the meat ravs.

      you'll never believe it but brother actually ate some of the pumpkin ravs.  i knew it wouldn't take long before we started opening up those deprived little tastebuds of his. 


      breaking bread: homemade foccacia bread

      >> Monday, November 2, 2009

      bread is one of my many weaknesses and i love just about any variety - white, rye, wheat, ciabetta, pumpernickel, french, sourdough, biscuits - my 'love for bread list' could go on and on. however, my all-time favorite is foccacia bread.  i just love the combination of the crunchy, yummy crust with the soft, warm inside.  it's just perfect.  yummm.

      with all the time i had last week, i knew i could handle a little bread making action with the help of emeril's recipe.  you can switch up the toppings for just about anything your little heart desires.  i chose more traditional toppings, but you could go with caramelized onions, olives, rosemary, cheese, sundried tomatoes - i think you get the point.

      here's how emeril's recipe went:

      1 1/2 cups warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
      1 tablespoon sugar
      1/4 ounce (1 package) yeast
      3 1 /4 cups all-purpose flour (you may need more to achieve the smooth elasticity)
      2 teaspoon salt
      2 tablespoons olive oil
      1 roma tomato, sliced thinly
      2 tablespoons chiffonade of basil
      1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

      preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

      in a small bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water. sprinkle the yeast over that mixture and let stand for 10 minutes, to bloom (it should begin to foam.) in the mixer bowl with the dough hook attached, add 3 cups of flour, salt and yeast mixture. slowly turn it on and work the dough together. turn it up to medium and mix for 5 minutes. if the dough is sticky, continue mixing and gradually add the remaining flour (i had to add another 1/2 cup of flour because it was very sticky).

      place this smooth ball of dough into an oiled bowl, cover and set aside to rise for 3 hours.  punch (literally) down the dough, and remove it from the bowl onto a lightly oiled, 9 x 13-inch sheet tray. spread the dough out onto the sheet tray. using your fingertips, make "dimples" in the dough. drizzle the dough with olive oil, sprinkle on the basil, spread out the tomato slices, sprinkle on the cheese and bake for 35 minutes.

      surprisingly, some paper-fagans were not fans.  
      but that's ok because that means more for me!


      apple meets pear: apple-pear dessert tart

      >> Thursday, October 29, 2009

      as you know, this week i've been living out my culinary fantasies and i've always wanted to make a homemade tart of some sort.  i had a dinner party to go to this week, so i whipped up this delicious little gem. i adapated the recipe from realsimple.com so it was incredibly easy and some might even call it beautiful (me).  here's how i did it:

      2 tablespoons of flour
      2 9-inch ready made pie crusts
      1/3 cup apricot jam, plus 2 tablespoons
      2 gala apples, sliced 1/4 inch thick
      2 bartlett pears, sliced 1/4 inch thick
      2 tablespoons of lemon juice
      1 teaspoon dried ginger
      1 teaspoon nutmeg
      1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
      3 tablespoons sugar, plus 2 more teaspoons
      1 egg, beaten

      preheat oven to 350 degrees.  flour working surface and roll out pie crusts, placing one on top of the other. roll out to 12 inches in diameter.  transfer to baking sheet lined with parchment paper and lather with 1/3 cup of apricot jam leaving a 2-inch border.

      mix together pears, apples, lemon juice, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and 3 tablespoons of sugar in large mixing bowl.  carefully lay fruit slices on crust in concentric circles, alternating between pears and apples.  make sure to not place fruit on 2-inch border.  fold up remaining crust over fruit for a rustic look.  brush outer crust with egg and sprinkle 2 teaspoons of sugar on top.

      bake for 60 minutes until crust is golden brown and the fruit is tender.  in small sauce pan, heat 1 tablespoon of water and 2 tablespoons of jam for about 3 minutes.  brush over fruit for that glazed professional bakery look.  enjoy!


      this week in the kitchen: lemon and garlic roasted chicken, butternut squash risotto, thyme popovers

      >> Wednesday, October 28, 2009

      earlier this week i had some of the girls over to accomplish task #2 on my weekly to-do list.  i began looking for recipes that reminded me of autumn.  i knew i wanted to use vegetables that were in season, hence the butternut squash, and i wanted to use earthy flavors like thyme and rosemary.  the meal turned out wonderful and the girls were pleasantly stuffed.  i pretty much followed the recipes exactly, except i also stuffed the chicken with rosemary and i substituted bacon for pancetta in the risotto.  i also didn't have a popover pan so i used a mini muffin pan instead.  hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

      here's the menu:

      lemon and garlic roasted chicken
      butternut squash risotto with bacon and jack cheese
      thyme popovers

      pictures of the beautiful meal:


      food for thought

      available here for purchasing, followed by matting, framing, and hanging.

      (photo credit - wallblank.com)


      persian perfection: seasoned steak, garlic roasted potatoes & lemon sugar snap peas

      >> Friday, October 23, 2009

      last night i whipped up this snazzy meal for the fam as part our our weekly round-up. i was pursuing through the bible (aka cooking light) and found this french delight that called for herbes de provence, which is a fancy name for a mixture of herbs that are predominantly used in southern france. the mixture can vary based on brand, but normally includes basil, fennel seed, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory and thyme and its just delicious. i tweaked cooking light's recipe a little bit and paired it with lemon sugar snap peas and garlic roasted potatoes.

      2 large ribeye steaks
      2 tablespoons dried herbes de Provence
      2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
      2 teaspoons of garlic powder
      2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
      2 teaspoons lemon juice
      1 package frozen sugar snap peas
      8 small red potatoes, cubed

      preheat oven to 400 degrees. place potatoes on cookie sheet and drizzle with evoo, garlic powder and s&p. cook for 30-35 minutes until crispy on outside and soft in the middle.

      preheat grill pan and spray with non-stick cooking spray. combine herbes de provence, mustard, and s&p in a small bowl. rub meat evenly with herb mixture, but only on one side. place steak on grill, seasoned side down and cook for 5-7 minutes. season other side with s&p, flip and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes.

      meanwhile, cook sugar snap peas according to directions on package. when done, season with lemon rind, lemon juice, evoo and s&p.

      this meal was a perfect weeknight staple that i plan to keep in my repertoire. it was simple, quick, elegant and full of flavor! apprécier!


      southern comfort: stuffed chicken, cheesy grits, & apple harvest salad

      >> Thursday, October 22, 2009

      the second installment of this week's delicious treats was stuffed chicken with a side of warm cheesy grits and simple apple harvest salad. i made up this recipe on the fly when i wanted to use up the cream cheese in the fridge. the meal turned out better than i expected and the grits were just the creamy, cheesey delicousness i craved. anddddddd it was a weight watchers recipe.

      4 chicken breasts, pounded thin
      1/3 cup light cream cheese
      3 tablespoons of sundried tomatoes, chopped
      1 cup of frozen spinach, drained and dried
      3 cups of chicken stock
      3/4 cup of 5-minute grits
      1/4 cup light
      alouette cheese

      preheat oven to 350 degrees. combine spinach, cream cheese, sundried tomatoes and s&p in mixing bowl. i found it best to mix with my hands. evenly scoop a dallop of mixture on each chicken breast and use knife to spread out over entire chicken. roll up chicken breasts from top to bottom and secure with kitchen twine or these eco-friendly bad boys. cook for 30 to 35 minutes, depending on size of chicken breast.

      in another pan bring chicken stock to boil. add grits and cook for 5 minutes. stir in alouette cheese and s&p. it's that easy!

      i don't really have an exact recipe for the salad, i just kind of threw together ingredients that reminded me of fall. i added sliced apples, craisins, toasted walnuts, mixed greens, orange peppers and mixed greens. we touched it off with a raspberry walnut vinaigrette. enjoy!


      yum for your tum: pasta with cauliflower and turkey sausage

      >> Wednesday, October 21, 2009

      i promised i'd follow up with this week's cotton top family dinners. so monday night, pasta with cauliflower and turkey sausage was on tap. i adapted this recipe from cooking light. the original version used reserved pasta water to make the sauce. i decided to improvise and make a quick pan sauce to satisfy the picky eaters in the house. i just couldn't see them going for the starchy water sauce.

      the picture above doesn't lie. we were all excited to eat that i almost forgot to take a picture - until about halfway through the meal. i'm sure the leftovers will also heat up nicely for lunch later this week. yum-o.
      so here's how it goes, foodies.

      5 oz. mild turkey sausage, cooked
      2 cups cauliflower florets
      2 tablespoons of evoo
      4 cups of cooked pasta
      1/2 cup parmesan cheese
      1 tablespoon butter
      1 tablespoon flour
      1 cup milk or cream

      preheat oven to 450 degrees. place cauliflower on baking sheet and season with s&p and 1 tablespoon of evoo. bake for 20 minutes until toasty. also, boil water for the pasta and get that going.

      cut sausage crosswise into 1/4 inch slices. heat medium skillet with remaining 1 tablespoon of evoo and cook the little guys for about 10 minutes. remove from pan and set aside. in same pan melt butter and then whisk in flour to make roux. once roux has turned into a light brown color, whisk in milk or cream. keep stirring until it turns into a cream sauce. remove from heat and add parmesan cheese. season with s&p.

      in a large bowl, mix together hot pasta, cauliflower, sausage, cream sauce and s&p. serve immediately and enjoy. yum for your tum?


      cotton top's weekly menu

      >> Monday, October 19, 2009

      here's what's on tap this week, foodies. stay tuned for the pics and recipe details. it's gonna be good.

      monday: farfalle with cauliflower and turkey sausage

      tuesday: stuffed chicken with a side of warm cheesy grits and simple apple harvest salad

      wednesday: leftovers (i'll be at comedy night so the fam will have to do without their personal chef)

      thursday: herb de provence steaks with roasted potatoes and sugar snap peas

      TGIF: thanks goodness it's fajitas night. ariba, ariba!

      (image credit - vi.sualize.us)


      dine me. wine me: crostini with ricotta and goat cheese, prosciutto and cheese stuffed lamb, champagne risotto, fried ravioli, & cream polenta

      >> Wednesday, October 14, 2009

      my friend, lynn, asked me to help plan a celebratory meal for her main squeeze. she gave me a few must-haves for the night:

      1. needed to include lamb (his fav)
      2. needed to be elegant
      3. needed to be easy

      when i think of romance and elegance, i think italian. after all, isn't it the language of love? i immediately knew to turn to my culinary bff - giada de laurentiis. i love the simplicity and rustic aspects to her recipes and i knew sister jones could handle it.

      i found the most perfect lamb recipe and i gave sister jones a few options for the sides and appetizers.

      appetizer: crostini with ricotta and goat cheese
      main course: prosciutto and cheese stuffed lamb tenderloin
      side #1: champagne risotto
      side #2: fried ravioli with marinara dipping sauce
      side #3: creamy polenta with arugula

      lynn is a natural in the kitchen that not even a little roadblock could stop her. whole foods didn't have any lamb so she improvised with beef tenderloin. she choose side option #2 because honestly, what guy doesn't love a little fried food? check out lynn's success below:


      nuts for salmon: pecan crusted salmon with sauteed spinach and lemon green beans

      >> Sunday, October 11, 2009

      first off, sorry for the delay in this post. it was my intention to write this post friday afternoon before i left for va tech, but my afternoon turned into shambles when i locked myself out of the house for over 40 minutes. my b. i made this meal as part of my original weekly meal plan. it took no time to whip up and it was a definite crowd pleaser.

      1 bag of 10 oz spinach
      1 tablespoon butter
      1/3 cup chopped tomatoes
      1 garlic clove, minced
      3 cups of green beans
      1/2 lemon
      4 tablespoons of dijon mustard
      4 6oz salmon filets
      1/2 cup chopped pecans

      heat oven to 350 degrees. brush mustard over salmon filets and press chopped pecans down to make sure they are sticking. heat skillet with evoo over medium high heat. place salmon pecan-side down in pan and sear for 3 minutes. transfer salmon to oven and let cook for 5-7 minutes.

      steam green beans in vegetable steamer. once done, drizzle with juice of half a lemon, 1 tablespoon of evoo and s&p.

      in another pan heat up butter, 1 tablespoon of evoo, garlic and tomatoes. let cook for about 3 minutes and then add bag of spinach. cover pan and let cook for about 3 more minutes. add s&p and you're done.

      i tried to take a picture of the delicious meal, but mine and peg's camera batteries died. i've found one that looks pretty similar. enjoy!


      passport to greece: chicken souvlaki with greek couscous and toasted chick peas

      >> Wednesday, October 7, 2009

      as part of my weekly meal plan, i cooked up this bad boy last night. it was such a hit, even brother gave me a compliment...you know the boy whose diet is a plain as a saltine cracker...yea, he even enjoyed it! i adapted the recipe for chicken souvlaki from cooking light to add a little more hint of lemon and freshness. here's how i do chicken souvlaki with greek couscous and toasted chick peas:

      1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
      1/2 cup plain greek-style yogurt
      1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
      1 tablespoon evoo, divided
      1 1/4 teaspoons bottled minced garlic, divided
      1 teaspoon dried lemon pepper seasoning
      2 cups sliced roasted skinless, boneless chicken breast
      4 (6-inch) pitas, cut in half
      1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
      1/2 cup chopped peeled cucumber
      1/2 cup chopped plum tomato
      1 tablespoon of lemon juice

      combine feta cheese, yogurt, dill, 1 teaspoon evoo, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon garlic in a small bowl, stirring well. heat remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. add remaining 1 teaspoon garlic and lemon pepper seasoning to pan, and sauté for 20 seconds. add chicken, and cook for 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. pile pitas up with chicken, lettuce, tomato and cucumber slices and top with dollop of yogurt sauce.

      now for the couscous...

      i don't really have a real recipe i use, i kind of just throw things in there and see how it goes.

      1 cup of whole wheat couscous (when cooked, becomes about 2 cups)
      2 teaspoons of evoo
      1 tablespoon of lemon juice
      1/3 cup diced cucumber
      1/3 cup diced tomato
      1/4 cup chickpeas
      1/4 feta cheese
      1 tablespoon dried dill

      cook couscous according to directions. fluff with fork when finished and add remaining 7 ingredients. taste and season with s&p to your likeness.
      obviously, you saw what happened with the chickpeas earlier...so yeah, those got scrapped. i WILL try again.
      now close your eyes, eat up, and pretend you're in greece. i am a grecian GODDESS.


      is something burning?

      i'm not really a competitive person. it doesn't bother me if someone can finish a sudoku puzzle before me. it doesn't bother me if someone is is prettier than me. it doesn't even bother me when someone makes more money than me.

      but when it comes to cooking, i somehow turn into spencer pratt - a complete monster.

      i have to be the best and always cook the best thing. i like to make everything perfect no matter how long it takes me. if i mess up one little thing, i've been known to start over - completely.

      so you can understand my frustration last night when i was making roasted chickpeas and i smelt something burning. i opened the oven to find these burnt little turds smoking up my oven. i still don't understand what went wrong - i followed rachael ray's recipe exactly.

      luckily, i'm not one to give up. i have another can of chickpeas at home. stick around for round 2.

      chickpeas -1
      me - 0


      just call me susie...

      >> Tuesday, October 6, 2009

      ....susie homemaker, that is.

      i'm only home a few nights this week, so here's what we got cooking:

      tuesday: chicken souvlaki with greek couscous and toasted chick peas
      wednesday: pecan crusted salmon with sauteed spinach and lemon green beans

      stay tuned for pics and recipes tomorrow!

      (photo credit - vi.sualize.us)


      dinner in 15: blackened salmon with garlic rice and crunchy green beans

      >> Friday, October 2, 2009

      i don't know about you guys, but lately after getting home from work i have no energy to cook a lavish meal like i used in to my arlington days. (yes, i've already starting call them that because i already miss them dearly.) wednesday's dinner was slated for blackened salmon with garlic rice and crunchy green beans. not only was it really easy, but a real hit with the fam. here's how i did it:

      4 four oz. salmon filets
      2 tbs. chef paul prudhomme's magic seasoning blends (blackended redfish magic)
      12 oz. bag of fresh green beans
      3 & 3/4 cups chicken stock
      2 cloves of garlic, minced
      splash of apple cider vinegar
      1 & 1/2 cups of 5 minute rice (any brand, just not the kind that boils in a bag or that you microwave)
      2-3 tbs. of green onions, chopped


      preheat oven to 400 degrees. heat skillet over medium heat and add evoo. sprinkle both sides of salmon fillets with blackening seasoning. be sure to rub it in. place in skillet and cook for 2 minutes per side, until crispy. transfer to oven to finish cooking for about 5-7 minutes.

      meanwhile combine evoo, rice and 1 minced garlic clove in medium pan. cook for about 3-5 minutes. cooking the rice before you add the liquid gives it a different flavor and aroma. add 3 cups of chicken stock to pan and bring to boil. then turn down to simmer. (these directions will differ based on the brand you buy. be sure to read the directions on the box.) once rice is cooked, stir in scallions and s&p.

      in another skillet combine evoo, 1 garlic clove, s&p and green beans. cook for about 1-2 minutes and then add 3/4 cup of chicken stock. place lid on pan and let vegetables steam with chicken stock. let cook until green beans are tender, but still crispy - about 7 minutes. right at the end, add splash of vinegar. cooking with chicken stock will add tremendous flavor and give your meal that perfect homemade, warm-in-your belly taste.

      and there you have it, dinner in 15. enjoy!


      capers are the new olives: chicken with lemon caper sauce, smashed potato cakes, and roasted asparagus

      >> Thursday, October 1, 2009

      as i mentioned yesterday, the cotton top weekly dinner menu included chicken in a lemon caper sauce with potato cakes and asparagus. and yep, the fam ate good last night.

      i actually got the chicken recipe from cooking light. i have recently fell in love with capers and like to think of them as the new olives. they are salty, tangy, vinegary, and just plain delicious. if you're skeptical about them like i was in the beginning- go small first, go big later.

      i adapted paula deen's smashed potato cakes recipe towards a healthier version. lets face it - paula's version has a little too much budda for this gal. this is an easy recipe makeover from leftover mashed potatoes. we all know they never taste the same the next day, so why not try to turn into something new altogether? alright, here's how i did it:

      4 cups of day-old mashed potatoes (if you don't have these, you could even use the ones they sell in the refrigerated section in grocery stores)
      1 egg
      1/2 cup cheddar cheese
      3/4 to 1 cup bread crumbs
      3 tablespoons of fresh parsley
      3/4 cup flour

      add a couple tablespoons of evoo into a medium high skillet. mix first 6 ingredients together in bowl. quickly form into little patties. dredge patties into flour and place in pan. cook about 4 minutes on each side until crust is crunchy. serve immediately.

      as for the asparagus - they couldn't be simpler. heat oven to 400 degrees. coat veggies in evoo and s&p. roast for 5 to 7 minutes and you're done.

      and that's it. stay tuned for more recipes later this week. and where were you guys last night? i invited you over, ya know.


      not your typical tuna: dill tuna steaks

      >> Friday, September 18, 2009

      this past week i spent in kiawah isaland, south carolina was one of the best of my life. we enjoyed wonderful weather, peaceful days, endless bike rides and delicious meals. on our trip we ate lots of seafood including fresh crabs, shrimp cocktails, orange ruffy, halibut, grouper and the best of them all: dill tuna steaks.

      matty whipped these up for us one of the first nights there. it was a real simple and easy recipe that tasted fantastic, not to mention the presentation was delightful.

      2 large tuna steaks
      1 lemon slices for garnish

      1 lemon, juice and zest
      1-2 tablespoons of dried dill


      preheat oven to 400 degrees. mix together last 4 ingredients in small mixing bowl. place tuna steaks in baking dish and pour marinade over. let sit for a couple of minutes to soak in, but not too long because the acidity of the lemon will break down the fish. bake for 10-12 minutes based on your preference. i don't like my tuna rare so we cooked it a bit longer. garnish with lemon wedges (cut in half) and a sprinkle of more dried dill and you have yourself a wonderful piece of fish.

      there's the cook.


      my inner fat girl comes out: bacon potato salad, creamy deviled eggs with bacon bits, mini pepperjack sliders, lemon-pepper chicken skewers, bbq meatballs, & tomato, cucumber and feta salad

      >> Wednesday, September 16, 2009

      this past sunday, the fam and i decided to have an end of summer/welcome tailgating season party at the house. we fired up the grill, threw back some brewskies, and watched the tv light up in maroon and gold. nice try, redskins.

      anyway, peg put me in charge of the menu. so i opted for a few of my summer favorites and quickly realized i had forgotten my inner fat girl would be joining us for dinner -

      bacon potato salad
      creamy deviled eggs with bacon bits
      mini pepperjack sliders
      lemon-pepper chicken skewers
      bbq meatballs
      tomato, cucumber and feta salad

      here's how i did it:

      bacon potato salad
      boil potato cubes until tender (test with fork) - make sure not too mushy. fry up some bacon. in bowl, cut up and mix up diced carrots, celery, green onions, and chopped bacon. once potatoes cool, mix with vegetables, bacon, s&p, dijon mustard, and equals parts of light sour cream and light mayo. add condiments until you hit your desired creaminess.

      creamy deviled eggs with bacon bits
      hard boil eggs and let cool. cut in half and place egg yolks in mixing bowl. stir in crumbled bacon, light mayo, dijon mustard, and s&p. scoop back into egg whites and garnish with paprika and parsley leaves.

      mini pepperjack sliders
      combine ground beef with worcestershire sauce, hamburger seasoning, parsley, minced garlic and s&p. form into mini burgers and grill up. let pepperjack cheese melt before placing on mini burger buns. love all things mini. because you can eat more.

      lemon-pepper chicken skewers
      combine lemon zest, lemon juice, minced garlic, evoo and s&p. marinate chicken in mixture for up to one hour. cut chicken, bell peppers and red onion into bite size pieces. stack chicken and veggies on wooden skewers and grill up. be sure to soak skewers for at least one hour in water to prevent them from getting toasty.

      bbq meatballs
      stir up frozen meatballs and bbq sauce in slow cooker. use enough bbq sauce to coat balls. cook on low for two hours and you're done. how simple is that? i used a chipotle honey bbq sauce for that extra kick.

      tomato, cucumber and feta salad
      mix together chopped tomatoes, cukes, minced red onion, crumbled feta cheese, and a greek vinaigrette. sprinkle with s&p and you're done. i threw in some parsley too because i had it on hand. and it's pretty.

      i realize i didn't include any measurements...these recipes are oldies and goodies so i just make it up as i go along. but feel free to email if you need more specifics.

      in closing, i can say the inner fat girl was happy and so was the clan.


      my own version of heaven

      >> Friday, September 4, 2009

      this weekend, i'm leaving for a vacation to kiawah island with MZ's family. all i can think about is how i am not going to be sticking to my diet. i don't believe diet & exercise goes with vacation. however, i do believe the word vacation goes with the word chip.

      anyone who even slightly knows me, knows i have a love/love relationship with chips. ton (stepdad) jokes that i'm not a good person to share a bag of chips with because the other person will only get the crumbs. whenever someone tells me they had chips for lunch, i just have to ask, "well, what kind? did you have a dip to go with those?" i like to think it's genetic. peg loves a good chip and dip combo as well.

      so i got to thinking - i should write a blog post on my favorite chip. this is no small task as i've never met a chip i didn't like. so i narrowed it down to my top 6 favorites because i could not even narrow it down to 5.

      miss vickie's jalapeno kettle cooked chips

      lay's sour cream and onion chips


      cool ranch doritos

      ruffles original potato chips with homemade french onion dip

      tostitos chips and queso dip (peg's #1)

      mini sourdough pretzels with hidden valley buttermilk ranch

      if i had to guess sis's favorites, i would say it's a close tie between crunchy cheetos and bbq chips. am i right sis?

      (photo credits - blogs.trb.com, cathycalifornia.typepad.com, foodnetwork.com, fritolay.com, greatamericanpublishers.com)


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