Ever Evolving Food Blog

Hello Everyone! I have had this blog for years now, and as my personal life has changed, so have my tastes and eating habits...for the better!! I am now a fully plant-based eater, so my newer recipes will reflect this lifestyle and way of eating.

All of my old recipes will remain on my food blog, of course, so there will be a mixture of the old and the new for everyone to look through and choose. You can always play around with any recipe out there and make it your own, whether it's plant-based or not. There are always other options!
Thanks SO much for following! Happy Eating!

What's Cooking With Melissa

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Roast in the Oven with Beef & Veggies

Put it in the pan and walk away. That's we want during our busy days, right?  Well, I don't know about you, but I don't always love cleaning out my crock pot, so when I figured out how to do a roast in the oven in a roasting pan, I was giddy (but that's just me). 

boneless beef chuck roast (~1-2 lbs.)
1 bag baby carrots
2 yellow onions, quartered
4 celery stalks, cut into 1 inch pieces
~10-12 Yukon or large new potatoes, halved
2 clove garlic, crushed
ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt  
2 cups beef broth or 1 OXO cube dissolved in 2 cups of boiling water
2 sprigs rosemary (1 teaspoon dried) 
4 sprigs thyme (2 teaspoons dried)   
2 bay leaves

Put the beef in the center of the pan, surround it with veggies, pour the broth over everything, then sprinkle on the herbs. Tent with foil in a roasting pan and cook at 300 for 4-6 hours, covered (the longer, the more tender the roast).  You may want to turn it after a couple of hours, but you don't need to open the foil tent and baste or anything.  Just literally put it in the pan, cover, and walk away.  

This will feed four people well.  If there is any left over, my family likes to take the beef the next day, put it between two pieces of white sandwich bread with some mayo.  Heaven!!! 

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Yucatan Chicken with Grilled Summer Salsa

This colorful grilled dish is perfect for a summer get-together.   All the fresh vegetables and Mexican spices are so flavorful and complement the chicken beautifully.  Add a little Spanish rice and refried beans on the side and you've got yourself one fantastic meal!  Eat it outside on the deck on a beautiful night and enjoy!

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
lime juice (you'll need a little over 1/2 cup)
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 tsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 ears of corn, grilled, then kernels removed from ears
1/2 can seasoned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup of pico de gallo (or 1 tomato, 1 onion, and 1 Tbsp cilantro, all diced & chopped)
1/4 cup purple onion, grilled in quarters, then chopped
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 lemon, quartered and grilled (for garnish & flavor)

Serve with:
1 package 90 sec. Spanish rice to serve on the side or as a bed for the chicken & salsa
1 can fat-free refried beans, heated with a little low-fat shredded cheese & baked tortilla chips on top
freshly chopped cilantro & sour cream to top

Place the chicken breasts in a medium bowl.  Combine 1/2 cup lime juice, pepper, chili powder, and oil and pour over the chicken.  Toss to blend and let marinate for 30 minutes.

Grilled, pre-cut veggies
In a medium bowl combine corn, pico de gallo, purple onion, black beans, cumin, and 1 Tbsp. lime juice to create the salsa.  I like to mix it gently with my hands so that none of the components get beat up.

Grill the marinated chicken on high heat for 6-8 minutes per side.  Make sure the thickness of the chicken breasts are even before grilling (cut off the thin bits and pound the chicken to create evenness).  

Grilling Tips:
  • To get those cool grilling marks, turn chicken only once, and when you do, rotate it 90 degrees. :)
  • To know when you're chicken is done, DON'T CUT it!  This will let those wonderful juices escape & make your chicken dry.  Instead, push a fork or knife onto the top of chicken on the grill. If the juices run clear, then its done. :)
Once the chicken is finished (internal temp should be 165), let it rest for 5 minutes to let the juices redistribute (just like a steak).  Then plate with salsa over the top and a little Spanish rice and refried beans on the side.  ¡que aproveche! 

**My suggestion is to get a bite with a little salsa, refried beans, and chicken.  The combination of the three together is amazing!  :9

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Independence Day Cupcakes (Red Velvet & Cream Cheese with Berries)

The 4th of July is such a festive time here in the states.  Along with cookouts, fireworks, and beach parties, there are always fabulous desserts sitting here and there just waiting to be devoured by hungry family and friends.  If you want to make something that is cute and that is easy to just pick up and eat, try these fabulous cupcakes! (By the way, this is Paula Deen's red velvet recipe, so you KNOW it's going to be fabulous!)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons red food coloring
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Icing
1 pound cream cheese, softened
2 sticks butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
Fresh blueberries, raspberries or strawberries for garnish

For the Cupcakes:
In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl gently beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla with a hand-held electric mixer. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins about 2/3 filled. Bake at 350 for ~20-25 minutes, turning the pans once, half way through. A toothpick should come out clean when cupcakes are done. 

Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting. 

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.

Top with blueberries, raspberries, and/or strawberries along with your favorite 4th of July decorations.  I tried to find those little American flags attached to toothpicks, but couldn't find any, so I used these little shining stars instead.

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Sweet Spiral Shrimp with Rice Noodles

Okay, so I tried making the summer shrimp rolls and didn't like them at all.  I scrapped the recipe after making 4 rolls, took all the ingredients, and made up my own recipe.  I tried frying the rice noodles, but that didn't work, so I just used them as a bed for the main components.  It turned out to be really, really good!

~20 cocktail shrimp, deveined, tails removed, and sliced in half long-ways
Peanut oil for sauteing 
1 tsp minced garlic
Ginger paste (you can find this in the produce section with the fresh herbs)
1/3 cup shredded carrots
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 nectarine, cut into thin strips
4 green onion, chopped
rice noodles
light soy sauce to top/to taste

Heat ~2-3 Tbsp peanut oil in a medium saute pan.  Turn down to med-high heat and saute shrimp, 2 tsp. ginger paste, and minced garlic until browned (~4-5 minutes).  Remove and set aside.  Shrimp will be curled. 

In the same pan, add a little more oil if necessary and saute carrots, pepper, 1 tsp. ginger paste for ~3-4 minutes.  Add in the nectarine and green onion and saute for 3-4 minutes more.  Add the shrimp back in to heat through and mix with veggies & fruit, mixing well.  Serve on a bed of rice noodles and season with light soy sauce.

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Summer Rolls with Shrimp and Nectarines

These are like spring rolls except in this version, they aren't deep-fried, so they are much healthier and lighter, perfect for a party.  They are beautiful, as well, because you can see all of the rich colors through the rice paper. 
I have to be honest.  I didn't like these at all.  Maybe it's just my personal taste.  I didn't want to waste all of the ingredients, so I made a new recipe, which I call Sweet Spiral Shrimp.  I'll post that recipe soon!

2 oz. of vermicelli or thin rice noodles (you can also use capellini or angel hair pasta)
Rice wine vinegar
8 sheets of rice paper
1/2 lb. medium shrimp, cooked, tails removed, deveined, and sliced in half long-ways
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 nectarine or mango, pitted, peeled, and cut into thin stips
4 scallions, cut into thin strips
1/4 cup whole cilantro leaves (or mint, if you prefer)
Sweet Chili Asian Sauce for dipping

For the Summer Rolls
Cook the noodles according to the package
instructions.  Drain and toss with a little rice wine vinegar.
Dip a sheet of rice paper into a bowl of warm water for a few seconds, just until soft and bendable.  Lay the paper on a cutting board.  In the center of the paper, place noodles, 3 or 4 shrimp halves, bell pepper strips, mango strips, scallions, and a few whole cilantro leaves.  Make sure to leave at least a 1 inch border around the edges of the rice paper.

Fold two ends of the rice paper over on each other, making a sort of long rectangle.  Now, carefully roll up the wraps starting from one of the short ends.  Roll it up tightly like a burrito.  Repeat with the other rolls, then serve with Asian Sweet Chili Sauce.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Confetti Tortilla Spirals Party Appetizers (or Low Carb Lunch Wraps)

Having a party?  Need delicious, easy to prepare ahead of time finger foods?  This one is perfect AND it's healthy!  This is a low calorie, low fat, and low carb beautiful little treat to have out on the table at any kind of party.  Plus, you can make them vegetarian by just leaving out the turkey!  Kids LOVE them, and they don't even realize they are eating loads of veggies!

Large soft tortillas (low carb)
8 oz. 1/3 less fat Garden Vegetable Cream Cheese 
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Baby spring salad mix
Roasted red or piquillo peppers, dried off and sliced into thin strips 
16 oz. thinly sliced roasted turkey breast (unless you're doing a veggie wrap)
Shredded carrots
Green onions, sliced
Colored toothpicks

Mix cream cheese and Dijon mustard together in a small bowl. 
Lay out a tortilla and spread some of the cream cheese mixture over it, leaving about a 1/2 inch border around the edge.
Put on a layer of mixed salad, then a layer of shredded carrots.  Next put a layer of  turkey, followed by a layer of peppers and green onions.
Roll up the wrap, then place toothpicks through the wrap, placing them about an inch apart.  
Carefully slice off each end piece and discard (or eat to test it out!).
Slice in between each toothpick, making ~32 mini spirals.

An alternative for this is to make this a lunch wrap.  Instead of putting toothpicks in and cutting it all apart, simply cut it in half, diagonally, wrap it up, and take with you to work.  
It's SO much healthier than buying on at a fast food restaurant or the grocery store.  I don't know WHAT they put in there wraps, but if you check out the nutritional info on them....WOW!  Unbelievable.  When you make your own, you know what you're getting, and you know it's healthy.  Plus, you can just store all of your ingredients and the cream cheese mixture, and you've got enough for a week's worth of lunches right there!  :)

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Beef Stroganoff

I love pasta, and I love beef, so the combination of the two in this creamy, tummy filling dish is perfect!  Although it originated in Russia, it has been adopted in countries throughout Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and North and South America.  You could add different spices to alter the taste a bit and make it your own!

Extra virgin olive oil
12 oz white mushrooms, halved with stems removed
1 lb. sirloin, cut into thin strips
salt and pepper to taste
1 yellow onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. flour
3/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup beef stock (I use OXO)
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup light sour cream
chopped fresh parsley to top
1 (8 oz.) package of egg noodles
2 Tbsp. butter

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and cook ~8-10 minutes, until soft and caramelized.  Remove and set aside for later.

Season beef with salt and pepper, then cook in the same saute pan ~8-10 minutes, adding more oil if necessary.  Once the beef has been browned, remove and add to reserved mushrooms for later. 

Add onions and garlic to the same pan and saute until the onion is translucent.  Stir in flour until the veggies are evenly coated, then add the wine, stock, and tomato paste, scraping the pan to release any bits stuck to the bottom.  These add to the richness of the flavor.

Turn the heat down to low and simmer for ~12 minutes until the liquid thickens and reduces by about half.
Return mushrooms and beef to the pan and heat through, then remove from heat.  After the liquid cools just slightly, stir in the sour cream.  Serve over buttered noodles, top with a bit of chopped parsley, and enjoy!

For Buttered Noodles
Boil egg noodles in a large pot of boiling water with a little salt and olive oil added for 13 minutes.  Drain well and add butter, making sure the noodles are well-coated.

*This version of beef stroganoff is much lighter than the traditional version, so it has a lot less calories and fat but the same wonderful taste.  Hurray!

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I love sinking my teeth into soft, warm oatmeal cookies.  The best thing about these cookies is that you could eat them as they are or add raisins, dried cranberries, nuts, or even chocolate chips!  You can make them your own and enjoy them right out of the oven with a cold glass of milk or in the morning with your coffee.  YUM!

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon 
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups uncooked oats (quick or old fashioned)
1 cup raisins (or other dried fruit, nuts, or chocolate chips), optional

Beat together butter and sugars until creamy.  Add eggs and vanilla until well blended.
Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt and mix well.
Stir in oats and raisins and mix well.
Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto foil-lined baking sheet sprayed with non-stick baking spray.
Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sea & Surf with Blackend Shrimp and Tilapia

At a lot of restaurants, if you get a seafood platter, you often end up with a huge plate full of battered, fried food.  Now, I'm not saying I don't LOVE a good plate of fried sea food, BUT I'm trying to be healthier, AND this homemade sea & surf dinner is so yummy, you won't miss all that battered up food.

11 oz. peeled, deveined cocktail shrimp
4 tilapia fillets
4 Tbsp. butter, divided (I use Promise)

For Blackened Seasoning you'll need:
1 small, close-able container or ziplock bag
2 tsp. ground paprika
4 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper, or to your taste
1 tsp. dried oregano
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
For the seasoning, put all of the spices into the ziplock back and mix well. 

In a medium skillet, melt 2 Tbsp. butter and saute shrimp, giving a really nice coat of seasoning.  Saute until shrimp is heated through, adding seasoning to taste (~5-8 minutes).  You can also grill your shrimp on kebabs.  Just coat your shrimp in non-stick cooking spray, and grill.

Lay fillets on a foil-lined baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Melt 2 Tbsp. of butter and brush or spoon onto the fillets.  Coat each fillet with seasoning and bake at 400 for ~20-30 minutes, depending on your oven.

Serve with your favorite veggies and enjoy! 
*The bread is just French bread with shredded Mozzarella, toasted in a toaster oven. =)

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Granola French Toast with Cinnamon-Yogurt Sauce

This grown-up version of French toast is so filling and delicious.  If you've ever made regular French toast before, this is just as easy to make, but your family will think you've to great lengths to make them something fancy!  Add your favorite flavored granola to give a little something extra instead of using just plain granola and then place some fresh berries on the top to make it even more of a treat!

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
6 1/2 inch-thick bias-sliced baguette-style French bread
2 Tbsp. butter
1 cup granola, coarsely crushed (I used vanilla-almond granola)
powdered sugar & syrup to top

1 (8 oz.) container plain, low-fat yogurt
1 Tbsp. honey
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. vanilla

In a shallow bowl, beat together eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon with a whisk.  Dip bread slices into egg mixture, coating both sides.

In a skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Add the bread slices and add some of the granola on top of each slice of bread in the skillet, pressing gently with a spatula.  Cook for 3 minutes or until bottom is golden brown.  Flip each slice, pressing lightly with the spatula, and cook for 2 minutes more.  When removing slices from the skillet, make sure you put them on the plate granola-side up.

For the sauce, in a small bowl, mix together with a spoon the yogurt, honey, cinnamon, and vanilla until well blended.

Serve the French toast with the cinnamon-yogurt sauce drizzled on top and sprinkle on a little powdered sugar.  Use your favorite syrup to dip your toast in or add some fresh fruit on the side and enjoy!

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Key Lime Pie

I really had no idea that there were such things as actual Key limes until I made this recipe!  All my life, I just thought it was a lime pie named after the Florida Keys!  I sheepishly came to find out that key limes are a smaller and tangier version of a regular lime.  I found them next to the lemons and limes in the produce section.

1 can (14 oz) fat-free sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup egg substitute
1/2 cup fresh Key lime juice
2 tsp. Key lime zest
1 (6 oz.) reduced fat, ready-made graham cracker crust
1 (8 oz.) container fat-free frozen whipped topping, thawed
Lime peel strips for garnish

Whisk together first 4 ingredients until well blended.  Pour mixture into pie crust.  
Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for 17 minutes or until pie is set.  
Remove from baking sheet and let cool for 1 hour.
Chill 3-24 hours.  Top with whipped topping and lime peel garnish just before serving. 

*Regular lime juice and zest may be substituted if you can't find Key limes.  Your pie just won't be as tangy.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Capocollo and Provolone Stuffed Pork with Broccolini and Lemon with a White Wine & Butter Sauce

If you enjoy chicken cordon bleu, you'll love this scrumptious dish! Capocollo is a dry cured, thinly sliced pork similar to prosciutto.  You can find it in the fine cheese and cured meat section of your grocery store deli.  If you can't find it, just substitute another dry cured meat.  

6 pork chops
6 slices dry cured capocollo
6 slices provolone cheese
1 large lemon, very thinly sliced
~1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/4 cup chopped, fresh chives
1 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt, divided
1 tsp ground black pepper, divided
1/2 cup broccolini, finely chopped
~2/3 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 cup Pinot Grigio or other dry white wine
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

For the Stuffed Pork:
Flatten the pork chops to 1/4 inch thick using a meat mallet.  I like to put the pork chops inside a ziplock freezer bag.  Those are sturdier than just using plastic wrap or wax paper.
Place one slice of capocollo and one slice of provolone on each pork chop.
Place 2 lemon slices on top of the meat and cheese, then sprinkle well with panko and chives.
Sprinkle each with salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese, then roll up each pork chop.
Secure each rolled chop with one or two wooden toothpicks or tie with kitchen string.
Place the rolled chopped seam-side down on a foil-lined baking sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.
Brush with olive oil and coat with panko.
Sprinkle each rolled chop with salt and pepper again and bake at 375 for ~30 minutes.

For the Sauce:
In a medium saucepan, add wine and broth and boil for 8 minutes.  Turn it down to med-low for a slow boil.  You don't want ALL the alcohol to evaporate.  ;)  Stir in butter and then add cornstarch mixture, stirring until sauce thickens (~1-2 minutes).  Season with salt & pepper, then transfer to a small serving pitcher.

Be sure to remove the toothpicks after the pork has cooked, then pour sauce over each piece just before serving, making sure the sauce is still warm.  I would serve this with corn, mashed potatoes, and/or wild rice.  You can also make this as a whole pork loin roast.  Just use a 4 pound roast, slicing it long-ways to unroll it like a carpet, then stuff, roll back up, and cook until a thermometer reads 145 when inserted into the center of the pork loin roast.

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Leftover Meatball Ideas

So you made too many meatballs.  Now what?  After making my Swedish Meatball dish, I had all of these leftover, uncooked meatballs in the fridge.  I didn't want to saute them in oil like I did with the others, and I didn't have what I needed to cook them in a crock pot, so I decided to bake them and use them later!

Baking the Meatballs
On a baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, I placed the meatballs and brushed them with teriyaki marinade.  You could use whichever type of marinade or barbecue sauce you like, or you don't even have to marinate them at all.  Just bake them the way they are!  I baked the meatballs at 400 for ~20 minutes.  Now they could be stored in the fridge longer, and I had the makings for dinner for the next night!  Meatball subs!

Other Ideas
  • Spaghetti & meatballs
  • Crock pot meatballs (with red sauce, bourbon sauce, preserve sauce, etc.)
  • Meatball pizza (cut the meatballs in half for this)
  • Italian meatball soup
  • Meatball pot pie
  • Sliders (pat them down to make mini-patties)
  • Just eat them as they are or dip them in your favorite sauce (ketchup, steak sauce, barbecue sauce, etc.) 

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    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    Blackened Fish (or chicken, shrimp, or pork)

    Growing up, I thought blackened fish, chicken, and shrimp meant that the cook just burned it to a crisp.  Happily, I found out that this is not the case, AND it's super easy to make your own stock of spices for blackening your white proteins.  

    1 small, close-able container or ziplock bag
    2 tsp. ground paprika
    4 tsp. dried thyme
    2 tsp. garlic powder
    2 tsp. onion powder
    1 Tbsp. sugar
    2 tsp. salt
    2 tsp. black pepper
    1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper, or to your taste
    1 tsp. dried oregano
    3/4 tsp. ground cumin
    1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
    2-4 tsp butter, melted

    In a baggie or container, mix together all of the dry spices, mixing well.
    Coat your fish, chicken, shrimp, or pork with melted butter (you can also use cooking spray).
    Give each piece of protein a good coating (I didn't put enough on mine this time) of the spice mixture.

    You can bake your fish or other protein in the oven on 425 for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of your pieces.  Just keep an eye on them.  I like to bake mine on a baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

    You can also grill your meats on medium low until done.  I can't wait to try this with shrimp on the grill!

    I served my blackened fish on a bed of brown and wild rice (the 90 second microwave kind).  Fast, easy, and  delicious! 

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    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Swedish Meatballs with Linguine

    I've always loved Swedish meatballs, but this was the first time I ever made them.  I've never found them on a menu of a restaurant, so, sadly, I mostly have only had the frozen dinner kind.  A friend of mine gave me her recipe a long time ago, so I thought it was high time I made this delicious dish!

    1 1/3 cups bread crumbs (I just used Pepperidge Farms)
    1/4 cup minced onion
    2 pounds ground beef
    2 eggs, slightly beaten
    1 1/2 tsp. salt
    ground pepper to taste
    1/2 tsp nutmeg
    2 Tbsp. butter
    2 tsp. flour
    1 cup boiling water
    1 beef bouillon cube (I use OXO cubes)
    1/2 cup milk
    1/2 cup cream
    1 box linguine, cooked in boiling water with a dash of salt & EVOO for ~13 mintues

    Soak bread crumbs in 4 Tbsp. milk. Add beef, onion, eggs, and seasonings to bread crumb mixture and mix thoroughly.  Shape into 1 inch balls and saute in butter.

    Go ahead and melt the bouillon cube in one cup of boiling water, stirring well to mix.

    Add flour to fat in skillet and make a roux, stirring with a fork.  Turn eye to low so it doesn't burn.  Add bouillon mixture to skillet, mixing thoroughly.  Stir in cream and the rest of the milk.  Simmer to make a thick gravy.  Add meatballs and simmer until warmed through.  

    Serve over cooked linguine and enjoy!  If you like mushrooms, just add them into the gravy.

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    Sunday, June 12, 2011

    Pimento Mac & Cheese

    This is a new twist on an old favorite.  It's a grown-up version of the mac & cheese we all loved as kids (and still do).  You can make this as individual small dishes or in a casserole dish for the whole family to dig in to.  The added sauteed onions and bacon give it some flair!  YUMMY!!

    1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into one inch pieces
    2 tsp minced garlic
    1 large, yellow onion, chopped
    4 pieces of center cut bacon, chopped into 1/2 in pieces
    1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
    3 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
    2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided (not the kind you buy in the cylinder cans, but the actual grated kind you find in the Bertolli refrigerated section)
    3/4 cup drained roasted red peppers in brine, chopped (set the brine aside for later) (you can use pimentos if you can't find the roasted red peppers)
    1/4 tsp chili powder
    1 1/4 cup (packed) coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
    1 cup (packed) coarsely grated mozzarella cheese
    8 oz medium shell pasta

    Bring 1/2 cup water, bell pepper, and 1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until pepper is soft (~15 min.).  Set aside to cool.

    In a medium saucepan, sautee onions and bacon together until cooked through (~10 minutes).  Set aside.

    Toast panko in a skillet over medium-high heat until golden, stirring often (~2-4 min.). Transfer to a bowl, cool to lukewarm.  Rub 1 Tbsp butter into crumbs to coat.  Mix in 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

    Transfer bell pepper mixture to food processor or blender.  Add roasted peppers and 1 Tbsp. brine, chili powder, 1/2 tsp minced garlic, cheddar, and 1/2 cup Parmesan.  Blend until sauce is smooth.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Cook pasta in boiling salted water until tender, but still firm to bite (~12-13 min.). Drain and return to pot.  Stir sauce, onions & bacon, and mozzarella into pasta.  Season with salt and pepper. 

    Spray an 8 cup casserole dish (or 6 individual baking cups) with non-stick cooking spray.  Spoon pasta mixture, sprinkle wiht crumb topping.  Bake pasta until topping is crisp and sauce is bubbling (~25 min. or ~15 for individual baking cups).  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

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    New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies

    I always thought I made the best chocolate chip cookies on the planet until my friend at work brought these bad boys in for us to try.  I was skeptical at first, but when I tasted them, I couldn't believe how much better they were than mine!  You really MUST try them.  They're fantastic!!!  (My recipe is tweaked just a little from the original recipe.)

    3 2/3 all-purpose flour, minus 2 Tbsp.
    1 1/4 tsp baking soda
    1 1/2 tsp baking powder
    1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
    1 1/4 cups unsalted butter
    1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
    1 cup + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
    2 large eggs
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    20 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips or disks
    sea salt

    Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

    Cream butter and sugars together with a mixture until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, ~30 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 hours. (I couldn't wait, so I baked them without chilling first, and they were absolutely FINE.)

    When ready to bake, scoop out mounds of dough that are roughly the size of 'generous golf balls'.  Place them on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick baking spray.  These cookies will be around 3 inches, so make sure to separate the dough balls enough.  Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake at 350 until golden brown but still soft (~16 minutes).  Let cool before serving.

    *Make sure you put the unused dough back into the refrigerator in between batches.

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    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    Grilled Shrimp, Chicken, and Apple-Smoked Chicken Sausage

    I found this fabulous Apple-Smoked Chicken Sausage in a magazine and just HAD to try it! The one I tried is made by Johnsonville. It has a LOT less fat than regular pork sausage, and it's better for you. You can find it in the hot dog and sausage section of your grocery store.

    20 cocktail shrimp, peeled & de-veined with tails still on
    3 Apple-Smoked Chicken Sausage
    1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into one inch pieces
    pineapple, cut into one inch pieces
    1 medium red onion, cut into one inch pieces
    1 red bell pepper, cut into one inch pieces
    1 container white mushrooms, stems removed
    Marinade of choice (see below for marinades I used)

    Soak 9 wooden skewers in water for ~10 minutes.
    Alternate the above ingredients on the skewers.
    Brush on marinade of choice, coating well. Don't marinate for longer than 15 minutes.
    Grill on medium-high heat until chicken is cooked through (~20 min.), turning every couple of minutes.
    Remove food from skewers onto a plate with dipping sauces or into a salad bed and enjoy!

    I tried out three different marinade flavors put out by Lawry's.
    • Tuscan Sun-Dried Tomato with Minced Garlic & Olive Oil
    • Balsamic Herb with Italian Herbs & Balsamic Vinegar
    • Teriyaki with Pineapple Juice

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    Monday, June 6, 2011

    Margarita Chicken

    This poll winning recipe comes from the Cook This, Not That cookbook.  It's only 330 calories, as compared to T.G.I. Friday's version, which comes at a whopping 1,200 calories.  YIKES!  It's always nice to get the same great flavor for 2/3 less calories and fat!

    1/2 can black beans, drained
    1/4 tsp cumin
    Juice of one lime
    salt & pepper to taste
    extra virgin olive oil
    4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    1 cup salsa verde (you can get this where salsa is served in your grocery store)
    1 cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese
    chopped, fresh cilantro 

    Combine black beans and cumin in a saucepan and heat all the way through.  Squeeze in the lime juice and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat, but warm before serving.

    Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper. Sear in the hot pan for 3-4 minutes on the first side, until a nice crust develops, then flip and do the other side.

    Spoon the salsa over the chicken, top with cheese and bake until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is fully melted and bubbling (~10-15 minutes).  

    Divide beans among 4 plates, top the the chicken, and garnish with cilantro.  

    I actually served this on a bed of  90 second Spanish rice with a little pico de gallo and light sour cream on top to make it a full meal.  Make it your own and enjoy!

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    Saturday, June 4, 2011

    Grilled Corn & Kabobs on an Electric Outdoor Grill

    I am just learning how to grill on my new electric outdoor grill, so I wanted to put in a recipe for grilled corn and kabobs.  Now, so far, I've only grilled these two things, but hey turned so amazingly yummy that I wanted to share just how easy it is to grill.  

    Corn on the cob with husks left ON
    chicken (boneless, skinless, & cubed)
    pineapple, cubed
    bell peppers, assorted colors, cut into squares
    squash, sliced ~1 cm thick with skin ON
    zucchini, sliced ~1 cm thick with skin ON
    red onion, sliced into one inch chuncks
    mushrooms, stemmed
    Extra virgin olive oil
    Poultry seasoning of your choice (I used Jamaican Jerk Chicken seasoning)
    wooden skewers, soaked for 10-15 minutes

    Soak corn with husks on for 15 minutes in cold water.  Dab off excess water and grill for ~15 minutes, turning occasionally until the husk is charred.  Remove husk, rub on butter (& salt if you like), and enjoy!
    *Soaking the corn in water lets the corn steam perfectly inside the husk on the grill.

    Put the cubed chicken in a ziplock freezer bag, sprinkle with EVOO and poultry seasoning and shake until well-coated.  In a separate ziplock freezer bag, do the same with the fruit and vegetables. (You don't want to mix the raw chicken with the fruit and veg with oil.)

    Layer each skewer with chicken, fruit, and vegetables, leaving about a hand's length at the bottom and a couple of inches at the top.   Grill on medium-high heat for ~15-20 or until the chicken is cooked through.

    Remove grilled food from your skewer by placing the tongs of your fork at the thick end of the skewer and gently sliding it down, pushing the food off in a nice line onto your plate.  Use a variety of dipping sauces to dip your grilled food in, such as teriyaki for the chicken, mushrooms, squash, and zucchini, and Asian sweet chili sauce for peppers, onion, and pineapple. 

    This was my first attempt at grilling, and it went SO well!  I'm so excited!  I've always wanted to learn how to grill.  I'm sure I'll get much better at it the more I practice.  Wish me luck! =)

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    Friday, June 3, 2011

    Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

    One of my favorite restaurants is PF Chang's, where I always order lettuce wraps to share with my pals.  They are so flavorful, and I've always wished I could make them myself.  Bon Appetit magazine published a recipe for these yummy appetizers, so I HAD to try them out!

    16 large butter or bibb lettuce leaves
    1/2 cup Asian mild sweet chili sauce (I use Maggi Taste of Asia from Kroger)
    1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken, minced
    2 scallions, minced
    2 Tbsp. light soy sauce
    1 tsp. cornstarch
    2 Tbsp. peanut oil 
    3 medium shiitake muschrooms (~1 oz.) stemmed, minced
    2 tsp. minced garlic
    1 tsp. minced fresh ginger (you can get this by the tube now in the refrigerated produce area)
    1/4 cup unsalted, roasted cashews, chopped

    Have all of your ingredients prepared in advance so that you can cook quickly over high heat.  Bon Appetit says this is the key to successful stir-fry.

    Arrange lettuce leaves on a large platter. Pour chili sauce into a small bow and place on the platter with the lettuce leaves.

    Mix chicken, scallions, soy sauce, and cornstarch in a medium bowl and marinate for 10 minutes at room temperature, stirring occasionally.  

    Heat oil in a large, non-stick skillet.  Add mushrooms and stir-fry for 15 seconds before adding garlic and ginger.  Stir-fry for another 10 seconds before adding chicken mixture.  Cook, stirring often, until golden brown and cooked through, ~ 3-5 minutes.

    Spoon mixture into the lettuce leaves, dividing equally.  Garnish with cashews and chili sauce, roll up the leaves, and enjoy!  *If you've never had Asian sweet chili sauce, it's WONDERFUL!!!!  It's my new favorite thing!!  :)

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    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    Mini Chimis with Puff Pastry (baked)

    I LOVE Mexican food, and my all time favorite are chimichangas.  However, as everyone knows, the ones from the restaurant have muy, muy calories and fat!  Well, this is one way to cut down on portion size and all the added fat.

    1 puff pastry sheet (I use Pepperidge Farm)
    Low-fat or fat-free shredded Mexican cheese
    1 pound of lean ground beef/turkey/or chicken
    1 packet of taco seasoning (I use Taco Bell)
    Pico de Gallo for topping
    Light sour cream for topping

    Allow the puff pastry to thaw for at least 40 minutes before you use it.  
    Prepare seasoned beef according to taco seasoning packet.

    Cut thawed pastry into 6 equal rectangles.  Put a thin layer of shredded cheese on each rectangle, leaving about an inch at one end.  Put a thin layer of seasoned beef on top of the cheese.  Gentle roll up each pastry toward the bare end. 

    Place each pastry seam-side down on a baking sheet that has been lined with foil and sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Bake at 400 for 15 minutes.  Add toppings.

    These are perfect for dinner with the family or as appetizers for a party because they can be eaten with your hands like an egg roll!  Now you have mini chimis that are not fried and have lower fat ingredients.  Much better than filling up on the giant, deep fried, bad boys at a restaurant (although those are SO good!!).  Enjoy!!

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    Cheesecake Muffin Pan Minis (LOW FAT!)

    If you love cheesecake, but you find yourself avoiding it because it's too fattening or because you always seem to go for a larger slice than you should, then you'll LOVE these low-fat cheesecake minis!  They're only 165 calories and 2.2 g of fat each!!!

    ~20-30 Reduced Fat Nilla Wafers
    2 (8 oz.) packages 1/3 Less Fat Philadelphia cream cheese
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 eggs
    1 tsp. vanilla extract
    1 can No Sugar Added Cherry pie filling (I use Comstock)

    Crush vanilla wafers in a closed freezer bag with a rolling pin.  Put ~1 Tbsp. of crushed wafers in the bottom of each lined muffin cup.

    In a medium mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth and light, making sure all the lumps are out.  Fill the muffin cups almost to the top.  Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.  Let cool, then top with cherry pie filling.  Makes 12.

    These are great for parties.  You could add some blueberries on top of the cherries and have a red, white, and blue treat for the Fourth of July!  What's really great is,  these little guys are low fat!!  :)

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