Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cajun Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

I think this might be my husband's new favorite pasta dish. I think he had fourths of this stuff, which though not very healthy, is a sure sign of it's deliciousness. And what a fun take on fettuccine alfredo! This again is another recipe I found on Pinterest, but I did change it to suite my family's tastes. I think I'll continue to mess with this recipe and perfect it over time, so stay tuned for updates on this one. But as is, it's still SO good.

Cajun Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

1 lb fettuccine
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Cajun blackening spice blend (I used Zatarans)
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup chicken broth or stock
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend (mozzarella, asiago, parmesan)
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan (plus more for topping)
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped parsley, optional

Cook fettuccine according to package directions. **Important - scoop out 1 cup of pasta water before you drain the pasta and set it aside.** Drain and rinse with hot tap water to keep pasta from sticking. Set aside.

Meanwhile, pound each chicken breast until flat ( I like to pound my chicken in a ziplock bag for easy clean up). Sprinkle each breast on both sides with ample blackening spice, rubbing the spice in to adhere. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray and set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter with 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet, get skillet very hot. Working batches place 2 seasoned chicken breasts in skillet (so as not to crowd the pan) and sear on one side until very browned, about 3 minutes. Flip chicken over and sear on other side for 1 minute. Place chicken on sprayed baking sheet. Add another tablespoon of butter to the hot pan and repeat searing with the remaining 2 chicken breasts. Place chicken on baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, just until cooked through. Remove chicken and slice on the diagonal into strips. Cover with foil and set aside.

After chicken breasts go in the oven, start on the sauce in the same skillet. If needed add another tablespoon of olive oil and get the skillet nice and hot again. Pour chicken broth into skillet and whisk up all the lovely browned bits (flavor!). Add tomatoes and garlic and saute until softened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low and pour in the heavy cream, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add salt and pepper to taste and remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Continue to stir for 3 minutes, until cream has reduced and thickened. Remove from heat and stir in cheeses, stirring constantly until cheeses melt. Add pasta and toss. Add the reserved pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce so it will coat the pasta. Add chicken and toss. Serve topped with parsley and Parmesan cheese if desired.

Friday, June 29, 2012

No-Bake Butterfinger Pie

Oh wow, this pie is delicious!! Especially if you are a Butterfinger fan, which I am. And it is uber easy to make, which makes it a perfect summer dessert. I love the cheesecakey filling. Thanks to Pinterest for this great recipe!

No-Bake Butterfinger Pie

7 Butterfinger bars
16 oz Cool Whip, thawed
8 oz block cream cheese, softened
graham cracker crust

In a food processor, process 6 of the Butterfinger bars until you have just crumbs. In the bowl of a mixer beat together about 12 oz of the Cool Whip (3/4 of a large Cool Whip tub) and the cream cheese until well combined. Add the Butterfinger crumbs and mix until incorporated. Spread this mixture into the graham cracker crust. Top with remaining Cool Whip. Chop up the last Butterfinger bar and sprinkle it over the Cool Whip. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Noodle Kugel

Here's another recipe I made for my Ladies Auxiliary book club. It's noodle kugel with dried cherries, which is a traditional Jewish pudding/dessert. It tastes kind of like a bread pudding with noodles instead of bread. I got the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, again, and I was really happy with it. When I was reading The Ladies Auxiliary I wondered what in the world the kugels they were always mentioning tasted like and I'm happy I made this, because now I know.:) You can make this ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge until you are ready to bake it, just let it sit on your counter for 30 minutes to let it come to room temp.

Noodle Kugel

1 lb wide egg noodles
2, 8 oz blocks cream cheese, softened
1 lb 4% small curd cottage cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick butter, melted
8 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup dried cherries (I used a 6 oz package which was a little over 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a baking dish that is bigger than 9x13 (I used the next size up).

Boil the noodles for just 5-7 minutes, not all the way cooked. Drain in a colander.

In a very large bowl beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add cottage cheese and beat for another minute. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add sugar, melted butter, and beat, scraping down sides again. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each egg. Add cinnamon, vanilla, and mix. Stir in dried cherries. Finally, mix in the drained egg noodles, carefully mixing until incorporated. Pour into prepared baking dish and bake for 1 hour. Check to see if the center is set. You may need up to 30 minutes more until the center is set and sides are browned. Serve hot or warm.
Here's all The Ladies Auxiliary book club eats laid out before my guests arrived. There's challah with butter and freezer jams, noodle kugel, hamantaschen cookies and Oreo truffles, pita chips and carrots with hummus, kosher dills, and my big ol' water dispenser down there at the end. I loved cooking all these new foods. It makes me want to go through my local library's ethnic cookbook section and try some new recipes!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hamantaschen Cookies

These little cookies are Hamantaschen, a traditional Jewish cookie made for the celebration of Purim. I made them for a book club I hosted for the book, The Ladies Auxiliary. They are yummy little cookies, and remind me of the Finnish Ribbon Cookies I make every year for Christmas (I'm half Finnish, so that's a tradition that helps me remember my roots in Finland). The dough is much like a shortbread dough with a little cream cheese added for tenderness, and then the cookies are filled with jam. I had a hard time keeping the corners sealed - they want to become little cookie disks in the oven. Maybe chilling the formed cookies again and really pinching the corners would help. I got the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which is an excellent food blog with amazing photography.

Hamantaschen Cookies
-makes about 20-24, 2 inch cookies

8 tablespoons butter, softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 + 2 tablespoons flour (plus 2 tablespoons for high altitude)
 jam - I used raspberry and apricot

Cream butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add sugar and mix for 1 minute. Add egg, vanilla, orange zest, and salt and beat until combined. Add the flour and beat. Mixture should come together and be a little sticky. If it feels too wet, add an additional tablespoon of flour.

Form dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour (can hang out in your fridge for a couple days till you are ready to bake).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out chilled dough on a well floured surface to a 1/4 inch thickness. Using a round biscuit cutter (mine was just under 2 1/2 inches), cut the dough into circles. Spoon a little jam (about 1/2 teaspoon) into the middle of the circle and fold up 3 sides to create a triangle. Pinch the corners together really well and give them a little twist. Leave the filling mostly open in the center. Bake on parchment or silpat lined cookie sheets until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cook on wire racks. Store in an airtight container.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Last night I hosted a book club for the book The Ladies Auxiliary. It's all about an orthodox Jewish community in Memphis and one of the things I liked most about the book is how much it talked about food. Every chapter made me hungry! So for the book club I tried my hand at a few traditional Jewish foods: challah, noodle kugel, and hamantaschen cookies. This is the recipe for the challah, which is an eggy braided bread with a glazed crust. It's a great bread, but I'm not gonna lie, it takes more time and effort than other yeast breads. The 3 risings (actually 4 if you count the rise after its braided) take some time and rolling out the strands of dough for the braid gives your arms a nice work out. But don't let me scare you, the dough, though firm, is easy to work with and the resulting awesome bread makes it a labor of love.:)  I got this recipe from Smitten Kitchen and this youtube video really helps to review the process and braiding.

-makes 2 loaves

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 3/4 cups warm water
1/2 cup oil (canola, vegetable, or olive oil)
4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
7 1/2 - 8 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 egg, for egg wash
poppy seeds or sesame seeds for topping, optional

In the bowl of a heavy duty mixer (I have a Bosch) combine the yeast, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and the warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes or until foamy.

Add oil to the yeast mixture, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time. Add sugar and salt and mix. Add 4 cups of flour and mix with dough hook for 1 minute. Gradually add more flour a cup at a time until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and is pretty firm, for me I used just under 8 cups total. Knead with dough hook at medium high speed for 5 minutes.

Turn out dough and form into a smooth ball. Place in a large oiled bowl and cover with non-stick sprayed plastic wrap. Allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down dough, form into a ball again and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down dough one more time and allow to rise again until doubled, 1 hour.  (That's 3 risings in the bowl.)

Punch down dough and turn onto a floured surface. Separate dough into 12 equal pieces. Take 6 of these pieces to form 1, 6-strand braided loaf (cover the remaining 6 pieces of dough with plastic wrap so they don't dry out). Take each piece and roll into a snake/strand that is about 12 inches long and tapered at both ends. When you have 6 strands it's time to braid. You can look at my pictures below for the visual on the braiding or watch the youtube video, but here goes: take the 6 strands and pinch them together at the top. Now you have a 6 legged octopus. Take the outside right strand and take it up and over to the left, take the outside left strand and take it over and up to the right. Now you have a 2 armed, 4 legged creature. Take the left arm and bring it down in the middle. Take the outside right strand and take it over and up to create a new left arm. Take the right arm and bring it down in the middle. Take the outside left strand and take it over and up to create a new right arm. Take the left arm and bring it down in the middle. You do this, replacing arms, down in the middle, braiding until you get to the end of the strands, then you take the ends and pinch them together and under to form a nice braided loaf. Did you get that? Good. Now, do it all over again with the other 6 pieces of dough to form another loaf. Place loaves on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheets (or you can place them side by side on one baking sheet if you only have 1 oven - they might stick together in the middle when you bake them, but that's okay, they'll still bake through and be easy to pull apart). Beat the remaining egg and brush over the loaves. Set remaining beaten egg aside. Allow loaves to rise until doubled, 40 min. to 1 hour. Brush loaves again with egg and sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds if desired (I went for poppy seeds).

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven, on the middle rack, for 30 - 40 minutes. Traditional challah is deeply browned and glossy, but of course you can cover the loaves with foil if they are getting too browned for your tastes. Cool loaves on a wire rack.

**Leftover challah makes great French toast!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Panera Broccoli Cheese Soup (Copy Cat Recipe)

I love Panera. It is one of my favorite spots to eat. The soups, the salads, the chocolate croissants... All so yummy. I am especially fond of their broccoli cheese soup, so when I saw this recipe on Pinterest I knew I had to try it. And guess what, this just might be my new favorite broccoli cheese soup recipe!! I was pleasantly surprised by how much this soup really did taste like Panera's. It made just the right amount for my family, but I think in a few years when my kids are a little older I might need to double or at least 1 1/2 this recipe. I served it with my favorite Italian bread.

Panera Broccoli Cheese Soup (Copy Cat Recipe)

1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups half & half
2 cups chicken stock (plus more to add at the end)
1/2 lb fresh broccoli florets
1 cup grated carrots
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper
8 oz sharp cheddar, grated

Saute onion in a little butter until translucent and set aside.

In a stockpot melt butter. Add flour and whisk for 3 minutes, you want the mixture to be golden brown. Slowly add half & half, whisking. Slowly add chicken stock, whisking. Bring to a boil stirring the entire time. Add broccoli, carrots, and sauteed onions, boil, then turn to low and let simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. With a whisk or immersion blender break up the broccoli. Add cheese and stir until melted. Serve with extra grated cheese on top if desired.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Crock Pot Lasagna

This is my version of crockpot lasagna. Lasagna is great made in the crockpot - it turns out so moist. You can switch up this recipe by using Italian sausage instead of ground beef or ricotta in the place of the cottage cheese, but I like it this way because it's "cheap and cheerful", though I think I might add a little parsley to the cottage cheese next time. I'll probably be making this again soon because I have the other half of the lasagna noodles from the package to use up and my family really liked it. I served it with a Caesar salad and strawberries.

Crock Pot Lasagna

1 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 plum/roma tomatoes, chopped (optional - I like it for texture)
29 oz tomato sauce
2-3 teaspoons Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
8 oz regular lasagna noodles (about 10 dry noodles from a 16 oz pkg)
2 cups shredded mozzarella
24 oz container 4% small curd cottage cheese
1/4 cup grated/shredded parmesan

Spray the inside of your crockpot with non-stick cooking spray.

Brown ground beef with onion and cook until browned. Drain off fat. Add garlic and chopped tomatoes and cook until tomatoes begin to break up. Add tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat to a boil and remove from heat.

Spread 1 1/2 cups of the meat sauce into the bottom of  your crockpot. Arrange 1/3 of the noodles over the sauce, breaking up noodles to fit them in. Spread 1/3 of the cottage cheese over the noodles and sprinkle 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella over the cottage cheese. Top the cheeses with another 1 1/2 cups of sauce. Repeat this layering 2 more times ending with remaining sauce. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella over sauce and then sprinkle with 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Set crockpot to low and cook for 3 1/2 - 4 hours. Turn off crockpot, remove lid, and allow lasagna to stand for 10-20 minutes before serving.
This is what it looks like all ready to go in the crockpot.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Slightly Sweet Crockpot Roast

This recipe is from Six Sisters' and it's really good and interesting. When I looked at the list of ingredients I must admit I was concerned - I don't normally like to dose all my food with Coke and ketchup - but every once in a while what the heck (yes, I grew up in Utah and still say heck occasionally). The roast was tender, moist, and slightly sweet and the carrots and onion were seriously yummy stewed all day in the crazy Coke sauce. My favorite roast is still Pioneer Woman's pot roast recipe, but this was a fun change and my family liked it.

Slightly Sweet Crock Pot Roast

3-4 lb sirloin roast (look for some good marbling in the roast or it will be dry)
12 oz Coca Cola
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup Heinz chili sauce
3/4 cup ketchup
1 packet dry onion soup mix
4 onions, peeled and quartered
5 or more large carrots, peeled and chunked

Place onions and carrots in the bottom of the crockpot. Nestle the roast into the vegetables, making sure there are vegetables under the roast. In a bowl combine Coke, brown sugar, chili sauce, ketchup, and onion soup mix. Pour over roast and vegetables. Cook on low for 8 hours.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Chicken Gnocchi Soup

This soup is a copy-cat of the Olive Garden chicken gnocchi soup and it is so darn yummy. Kind of like an Italian chicken and dumpling soup. It's just the right amount of creamy, but not too thick. I really loved it! The recipe is from Jamie Cooks It Up, which is one of my favorite food blogs. My kids loved it too - even my pickiest ate it happily. I served it with homemade Italian Bread, though if you want to give it the whole Olive Garden treatment, you could serve it with these Bread Sticks, which are awesome.

Chicken Gnocchi Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and grated
4 stalks celery, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 cups cooked and cubed chicken (rotisserie chicken works great here)
8 cups chicken stock
1, 16 oz package Potato Gnocchi (I used the Da Vinci brand)
4 cups (or 1 quart) half & half
1 1/2 cups fresh spinach, chopped (2 good handfuls)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
salt and pepper

Combine olive oil and butter in a large pot, melt butter. Add onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, season with salt, and cook over medium high heat for 5-8 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add chicken ad chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Add gnocchi and bring to a boil again. Boil for about 4 minutes, until the gnocchi start to float. Pour in half & half. Add chopped spinach, thyme, nutmeg, sugar, stir and bring to a boil. In a small bowl combine cornstarch and cold water, stirring until smooth. Stir this cornstarch mixture into the soup. Boil the soup until it thickens a little. Taste and season with salt and pepper (needs to be seasoned liberally with the salt and pepper).