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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Grilled Balsamic Chicken Bruschetta

My house is fully decked out for Christmas. The tree is up and the stockings are hung. My mother’s handmade ceramics are placed high on shelves where my meddlesome cats can’t knock them down. The outside is set ablaze with thousands of blinking lights so Brent will let me keep the lights inside solid. And it’s 82 degrees outside.

Yup. Eighty-freaking-two degrees.

Yes, I know there are plenty of people in 30-something degree weather who would LOVE it to be in the eighties today, but let me tell you – it does not feel like Christmas. And snowflakes look kinda silly while you’re wearing shorts and a tank top, and sweating your ass off trying to hang up lights.

It is however, weather like this that allows us to grill pretty much 365 days a year. This is a good thing because we love grilling. Especially since my oven can heat the entire house up by itself and I refuse to turn the a/c on right now. I do many variations of this type of chicken throughout the year. It’s simple, fresh and fast. Not to mention versatile and very figure-friendly without sacrificing flavor.

So if you are up north right now, bookmark it for the warmer months. If you’re down south, maybe make it the night before you have to squeeze into that holiday dress. Like I have to… in 8 days. Not that I’m counting.

Balsamic Chicken Bruschetta
*Serves 4

-          4 chicken breasts (4-6oz each)
-          3 tbls + 2 teas EVOO, divided
-          1.5 tbl balsamic vinegar
-          1.5 tea roasted garlic and herb seasoning
-          1 cup diced tomato
-          1/2 cup diced onion
-          ½ cup diced fresh mozzarella cheese
-          3 tbl fresh minced basil
-          1 tea white wine vinegar
-          S&P

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Banana Black Walnut Bread

I like bananas. I also like banana bread or banana nut muffins. But I can't stand banana flavored things or adding a banana to a smoothie.

Like strawberry-banana smoothies? Yuck. I love strawberry smoothies and as I said above, I like bananas. Just please don't put them together. The banana just overpowers it. And banana flavored candies and such are just too sweet.

This banana bread? 

Out of this world. 

Maybe even the universe. It's that good. Brent and I ate the whole thing in less than 48 hours.

The original plan was to make it and take it to his family's Thanksgiving. We were headed up the night before and I thought it would be a great late morning snack while the turkey was cooking.

But the bananas didn't ripen fast enough. Which is the opposite of what happens when I buy them and want to eat them whole. They seem to spoil in like 1.5 days no matter how green they are when they hit my counter.

Anyway, we came back a home a few days later and my bananas were finally perfect for making banana bread.

This banana bread is dense, moist, flavorful and delicious. I don't think I'll ever need another Banana Bread recipe again...well except maybe a "healthier" version. 

I used black walnuts which have a bolder walnut flavor but feel free to use regular or english walnuts, which are more readily available and cheaper. Also, if you'd like the bread to be a bit less sweet, you can reduce the granulated sugar to 3/4 cup instead of a full. 

Black Walnut Banana Bread Recipe
*Makes 1 loaf

-          4 very ripe bananas
-          4 tbls softened butter
-          ¼ cup light brown sugar
-          1 cup granulated sugar*
-          1 tea vanilla extract
-          1 large egg
-          ¼ tea salt
-          ¼ tea baking powder
-          ½ tea baking soda
-          ½ tea cinnamon
-          1 ½ cups flour
-          Heaping ½ cup chopped black walnuts or plain walnuts
  • You can reduce the white sugar amount to ¾ a cup if you prefer less sweet bread.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sun-dried Tomato Tapenade Pork Roulade

Coming up with new ideas for pork is always a challenge for me. In my opinion, pork can be a bit more temperamental than chicken breast when it comes to keeping it juicy and flavorful. And while I like pork, I always find myself opting for other meats instead because I have better ideas for chicken or shrimp. This recipe was even inspired by a way I prepared chicken not too long ago.

In the summer, I love to grill chicken and then top it with fresh veggies or herbs in either a pesto or tapenade mixture. I find it to be a simple supper that is fast and fresh tasting. The tapenade/pesto-like mixture here was one of those “sauces”. One I definitely plan on using over chicken again, or even on crostini as an appetizer. Some day I’ll be sure to make a larger serving of it and post here for those purposes, but in the meantime, feel free to use the ratio here just omit the bread crumbs. I added those for use in this recipe.

Mediterranean Tapenade Pork Roulade Recipe

-          ¼ cup pine nuts
-          10-12 basil leaves
-          Small bunch parsley
-          8-10 sun-dried tomatoes
-          1 clove garlic
-          ¼ cup kalamata olives
-          ¼ cup feta cheese
-          3 tablespoons bread crumbs
-          juice of one lemon
-          2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato oil
-          2 tablespoons evoo
-          Salt and pepper
-          4 thin cut pork loin chops
-          4 slices bacon, cut in half


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Last Minute Appetizer - Herbed Cheese and Prosciutto Spread

This is one of the easiest appetizers I have come up with to date. The first time I made it was out of desperation to serve unexpected guests that came to our house. It went over so well that I've been making it regularly ever since. In fact, I made it last night for Brent to bring to his potluck at work today.

So if you happen to be looking for a quick appetizer to share for Thanksgiving tomorrow, this one might be your best bet. If prosciutto sounds scary to you, feel free to substitute thinly sliced deli ham.

For picture purposes, I spread the dip on some crostini but I usually leave it in a bowl and arrange crostini or crackers around it for serving.

Herbed Cheese and Prosciutto Spread Recipe
*Makes approx 2 cups/ Serves 8-10

-          8oz whipped cream cheese
-          6.5oz spreadable garlic and herb cheese (such as Boursin or Aloutte)
-          3 oz prosciutto, sliced thin
-          Fresh ground black pepper
-          Crackers, crostini or bread for serving
-          Parsley – optional

  1. Allow cream cheese and herb cheese to come to room temp, and then place in a large mixing bowl.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Buffalo Chicken and Blue Cheese Panini

Buffalo sauce drenched shredded chicken. 

Blue cheese. 

Sharp cheddar cheese. 

Fresh tomatoes. 

Caramelized onions. 

Chewy whole grain bread. 

And bacon. Oh yes, there’s bacon too.

This sandwich is a sandwich’s sandwich. It is a two napkin man’s sandwich. It is what other sandwiches want to be – chewy, gooey, cheesy, and mouth-watering delicious.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this but I prefer sandwiches that are toasted or warmed up a bit. Something about melting the cheese and toasting up the bread just makes me weak in the knees.

Buffalo sauce also makes me a bit weak in the knees, so this panini is right up my alley. I ate one whole one and then another half just because. Brent said he didn't think he could eat his final half, but I told him to pull his britches up and man up. If I could eat one and a half, so could he.

I’ll be eating salad for the next 7-10 days to make up for the calories but it was totally worth it.

Buffalo Chicken Panini
*make 4 sandwiches

- 2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
- ¼ cup buffalo wing sauce
- ½ large red onion, sliced
- ¼ cup butter, divided
- ½ cup crumbled blue cheese
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 8 thin slices tomato, approx 1 large one
- 4 slices bacon, sliced in half and cooked
- 4 slices sharp cheddar cheese
- 8 thick cut (approx 1”) bread - Choose a good chewy and dense bread


1. Start by caramelizing your onions over low heat with 2 tbls of butter. (Click here for a How to Tutorial.)

2. In a small bowl, smash blue cheese into sour cream. Stir well to incorporate and set aside.

3. In a sauce pan, melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over low heat. Add chicken and buffalo sauce. Simmer together until chicken is thoroughly warmed through and well coated with sauce.

4- Assemble sandwiches. Spread blue cheese on one slice of bread and place cheddar on other slice. On top of cheddar add bacon, onions, chicken, and tomatoes in any order you prefer and place blue cheese covered slice on top. (Mine went like this: cheddar, bacon, chicken, onions, tomatoes, blue cheese)

5- Place on a heated sandwich press – a George Foreman-like grill works too – and press sandwich for 1- 2 minutes or until cheese is melted and bread is toasted and browned. If you are using a regular pan, heat over medium, spray with cooking spray and flip sandwich midway through.

6- Let cool for a minute before slicing and serving.

Happy Friday!

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cannellini Bean and Basil Pesto Dip

Do you say white beans or cannellini beans? I find myself switching between the two all the time. So this is either Cannellini Bean and Pesto Dip, or White Bean and Pesto Dip depending on day.

Regardless of which way you say it, this is a really tasty dip to share. And so easy too! I made this for a birthday lunch we made for Brent’s mom. He was making her a big Italian dish for the main course, and I wanted something light for an appetizer that would pair with it.

It was so simple to pull together. The only real cooking you’ll do is simmer the beans for a few minutes to get the raw taste out of them, and warm up some pita bread if that is what you want to serve it with. You could also serve the dip with veggies, pita chips, or sliced baguette. I think it would pair beautifully with any of them.

The recipe below makes just shy of 3 cups which would serve about 4-6 as a light appetizer. It can be easily doubled/tripled if you’re serving more.

Cannellini Bean and Pesto Dip
* Makes approx 3 cups

-          2 cups cannellini beans, (one 19oz can)
-          ¾ cup basil pesto
-          Juice half a lemon
-          Zest of whole lemon
-          2 tbls water
-          S&P


Monday, October 29, 2012

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Anyone else tired of everything pumpkin yet?

Yea, me neither.

I’m a HUGE fan of cheesecake, but when I was a kid I thought the idea was kind of gross. Cheese + cake? Ewww.... but then I actually tried some and I fell in love.

This particular recipe I’ve been tinkering with for several years. The first time I made it was the same Thanksgiving I made the Smoked Gouda and Sausage stuffed Mushrooms. I’m pretty sure I’ve made it every holiday season since then, and each time I’ve adjusted it a little bit to get the balance just right.

After six years, I’m pretty sure I've gotten it just where I want it. The cheesecake is smooth and silky, and the flavor hits all the pumpkin pie notes you’d expect and could possible want. It makes me happy just thinking about it.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
*Serves 6-8


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Goat Cheese and Basil Tomato Sauce

My 21st birthday was some time ago. More years than I’d really like to admit, if I’m being honest. While there are many things I remember about this specific birthday, one was an appetizer we had at dinner. The dish was simple enough, consisting of goat cheese baked in marinara sauce and served with toasted baguette. Our server suggested mixing the cheese and sauce together – which we did – and I don’t think any of us could stop eating it. It was slightly tangy and luscious.

At the time when I whipped the sauce up for dinner, I wasn’t really thinking about recreating the appetizer in any way. I was just simply getting a bit creative with random items in the fridge and pantry. Now I think of this sauce as a nod to that appetizer…even though I’m making it about a million years later.

I’ve included a recipe for the dish I made that night and a separate recipe for just the Goat Cheese and Basil Tomato sauce. If shrimp, mushrooms, leeks, and spinach aren’t your thing, the GCBT Sauce would go great with grilled chicken or be fine all on its own.

Shrimp Pasta with Goat Cheese and Basil Tomato Sauce 
*Serves 4

-          2-3 garlic cloves
-          ½ medium onion
-          16oz plain tomato sauce
-          3 tbl EVOO, divided
-          2 leeks, slice ¾ inch thick and clean*
-          2 cups mushrooms, sliced
-          3-4 cups fresh baby spinach
-          2 tbls butter
-          1 pound 26/30 shrimp
-          2 tbls goat cheese
-          2 tbls minced fresh basil
-          ¾ pound thin spaghetti
-          1-2 tbls tomato paste
-          Salt and pepper

*Clean leeks by placing them in a large pot of water and swishing them around to release any dirt trapped between their layers. Use a slotted spoon to scoop leeks out of bowl once they are clean.

1- Cook pasta according to package directions

Friday, October 12, 2012

Salty and Sweet: Savory Pear and Bacon Tart

Fall has finally arrived in Tampa. The humidity has subsided and the past few days have had clear blue skies. While the temperatures are still hovering around 90 degrees during the day, the change is certainly noticeable. It’s time for apples, pumpkins, and boots and scarves.

Ok, well not the boots or scarves… I won’t be breaking those out until December.

This recipe is based off of a flatbread Brent and I enjoyed once at a local grill and bar, The Darlin Marlin. At first, I was a bit skeptical about ordering a bacon and pear flatbread, but we were assured it was probably the best one on the menu.

We both ended up really liking it and since then it has been on my “recreate at home” list. While the puff pastry is significantly different that a traditional flatbread, it really worked well as the "crust" of this dish. Light and flaky, but still held up to a good amount of toppings. And the bacon and pears come together in that perfect sweet and salty combo. 

This makes a great starter or pair it with a small salad for a light lunch or dinner. 

Bacon and Pear Savory Tart
*Serves 6 – 8 as an appetizer

-          1 sheet frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed
-          2-3 tbls flour
-          1 tbl olive oil
-          1/3 cup fontina cheese, shredded
-          1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
-          1/3 cup Monterey jack cheese, shredded
-          1/3 cup white cheddar cheese, shredded
-          ¼ medium red onion, thinly sliced
-          1 medium pear, preferably Bartlett
-          5-6 sliced of thick cut bacon, cooked and chopped
-          1 tbl butter
-          1.5 tbls roasted garlic butter

*Parchment paper is helpful


Friday, September 14, 2012

Hawaiian Pulled Pork Sliders

Recipe for: Sweet and Sour Pulled Pork on Hawaiian Sweet Rolls with Spicy BBQ Sauce

A couple of years ago now Brent and I were going to a Hawaiian themed graduation party. We were asked to contribute a Hawaiian type dish and bring it along. I've never been to Hawaii, though I’d love to get there someday, but for whatever reason Sweet and Sour Pulled Pork seemed to fit the theme. Plus, pulled pork generally does well with large crowds.

While everyone at the party seemed to enjoy it, Brent really loved it and over the years he has asked me to make it again. Recently he had a potluck at work and asked for the recipe so he could bring it in.  Since the recipe was never posted here, I figured I would make it again so I could write it down and share it with you.

For his potluck we bought about 14lbs of pork butt, so I slimmed down the recipe for 4-8 pounds to post here. This gives you a little wiggle room in the recipe depending on how many people you’ll be making this for.

One addition I made this time was a spicy BBQ sauce to go on top and I really thought it brought the whole thing together. In fact, the BBQ sauce would also be great on grilled chicken, pork chops or maybe even grilled salmon.

Just a note: In the recipe below for the pork, I separated the ingredients between the cooking liquid and the sauce to pour on top afterwards. I think it makes it easier to follow, even though they use many of the same items.

Sweet and Sour Hawaiian Pulled Pork Sliders
*Makes 20 – 30 sliders or 6 – 8  sandwiches


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