25 February 2010

Prosciutto & Spinach Panini with Pesto & Yogurt Cheese

I love panini!  Somehow, eating meat on bread becomes less of an issue for me when it's pressed, hot, and cheesy.  Also little grammar lesson for you?  Do not try to pluralize it as "paninis".  It is already plural, kind of like "pizelle" or "moose".

These were simple panini - I made pesto, then smeared it on lovely fresh Pugliese bread, topped with prosciutto, fresh spinach, and yogurt cheese.  Delicious!  For any of you who want specifics - it was two pieces of prosciutto, maybe 1/3 cup spinach, two slices (about 1" x 4" x 1/4" thick) of yogurt cheese, and maybe 1/2 tbsp. pesto on each sandwich.

I gave you some pesto advice a while ago, but I thought I'd add a more detailed "recipe".  I put that in quotes because I'm pretty flexible when I make pesto - you never know what it will be like texturally, and you will most likely have to add and subtract quantities in order to get the perfect consistency for your recipe.

My favorite thing about pesto is its versatility.  It works great as a spread on sandwiches, a topping for grilled meat, to brush on kabobs, and of course, as a pasta sauce.  It's nice to make pesto in big batches, then freeze it for later use.  You can use up your summer basil and enjoy it all year round.  At this time of year, if basil is super expensive, you can use part basil and sub other herbs in for the rest of the quantity.  Flat leaf parsley is my go-to substitute, but you can experiment with other mild herbs too.


1 c. fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 c. pignoli (pine nuts) or walnuts
2 cloves garlic, peeled
salt & pepper
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients except olive oil in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until mixture stops moving (mine typically gets stuck to the sides once it's been minced).  Scrape down the sides, then while running the food processor, stream olive oil in through the feed tube.  Stop, scrape down the sides, and taste the pesto.  Depending on its consistency, you may want to add more basil and nuts (to thicken it) or more olive oil (to thin it out).  Remember to season it to taste with salt and pepper.  The pesto I made this time was very thick - I wanted it to spread nicely on sandwiches and not be watery at all.  When I turned it into a pesto cream for pasta later in the week, I thinned it out with milk and a bit of heavy cream.

Store pesto for a couple days in food storage containers as pictured above, or ladle into ice cube trays and freeze.  Store the frozen cubes in a zip-top bag.  Each cube is 2 tablespoons of pesto - the perfect amount for four panini or one bowl of pasta.

24 February 2010

Check it out!

You may remember this review I wrote about Aha Sushi, in Gurnee, Illinois.  Well, they've posted a link to my blog review on their website!  Pretty cool, right? 

Click here to check out Aha Sushi's main page.

23 February 2010

Banana Chocolate Chunk Waffles

When I was a kid, my mom required me to eat breakfast every day before leaving for school.  It's a habit I've pretty much kept up, and it's rare that I skip the morning meal.  On Valentine's Day, I wanted to make something out of the ordinary for breakfast.  Since our weekend breakfasts typically involve bacon, eggs, and toast, I thought waffles would fit the bill.

I have this Cuisinart waffle maker, and the recipe I'll share with you came with it.  If you already have a Cuisinart waffle maker, you've got this recipe, but if you don't...well yay!  You can make Banana Chocolate Chunk Waffles too!

Banana Chocolate Chunk Waffles
adapted from Cuisinart

2 c. AP flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1-2/3 c. skim milk
1 medium banana, mashed
6 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 c. chocolate, chopped into small chunks

Combine all ingredients.  Preheat your waffle maker and cook the waffles according to manufacturer instructions. 

I found that I needed to grease my waffle maker between each waffle.  I also needed to keep the waffles cooking for a bit longer than the red and green lights told me to.  In the end though, I ended up with 9 delicious waffles (one more than Cuisinart said I'd get!).  We ate one each, and I froze the rest in a gallon-size zip-top bag with a piece of wax paper between each waffle.  When you want to eat them, you can just put them into the toaster oven straight from the freezer, just like an Eggo.  Only a million times better!

21 February 2010

Lamb Stew

I love making soups, but Andrew and I were getting tired of all my old standbys.  I hit Google, and before I knew it, decided to make lamb stew.  From there, I decided to seek out a recipe that let me make a savory stew in my slow cooker, and behold, I found one!  I did make some changes, because the recipe on A Crock Cook seemed like it could use some tweaking.  I would definitely recommend the changes I made!

I had a LOT of mashed potatoes left over from a previous meal, and this stew was perfect served over them - so hearty, warm, and satisfying.  Of course, only Andrew ate his that way.  Me, being the Queen of Divided Plates, enjoyed one bowl of buttered mashies and one bowl of lamb stew.  In my defense, it was still delicious!

Lamb Stew
adapted from A Crock Cook

2 lbs. lamb stewing pieces
1/2 c. AP flour
1 tbsp. ground coriander seed
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, sliced
28 oz. chicken stock
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 c. plain yogurt
2 c. packed spinach

leftover mashed potatoes, cooked egg noodles, or whatever carb you want to serve your stew over

Flour the lamb pieces.  The smart way to do this would be in a plastic zip-top bag.  The Amy way to do this would be to toss them around on a paper plate with flour on it, eventually knocking the plate and some lamb pieces on the floor and all over yourself.


Clean that mess up.  Now, brown the lamb pieces in batches in a little olive oil over medium-high heat.  Remove to a plate as the pieces finish cooking.

In the slow cooker, combine all ingredients except the yogurt and spinach.  Cook on low 8-10 hours.  In the last 30 minutes to an hour of cooking, stir in the yogurt and the spinach.

To serve, spoon warmed mashed potatoes into a bowl.


Ladle the lamb stew over the potatoes and serve.


This stew is a warm, hearty meal.  Being able to cook it in a crock makes it a super simple choice for weeknight dinners.  It's something a little different than beef stew with carrots or chicken noodle soup.  I adore soups and stews, and I'll continue to seek out new and interesting recipes and share them with you.

17 February 2010

Fish Chowder

It took me a while to find a soup that was "different" enough to get me out of my current soup rut, yet still make both Andrew and I happy.  While I was searching around on the Crockpot Lady's blog, I found what I was looking for.  This fish chowder is easy to put together, cooks in the crockpot, and tastes delicious.  I purchased the "sale fish" that day - tilapia fillets - and used frozen shrimp, so the cost wasn't prohibitive.  Hearty and satisfying without being too bad for you, this would be a great meal for Fridays during Lent or any day of the year.

Fish Chowder
adapted from Crockpot 365

1 lb. white fish, cut into 2" cubes
3 c. chicken broth
3 Idaho potatoes, cubed
1-1/2 c. frozen corn
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, cut into half moons
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper to taste

2 c. frozen shrimp
1 c. heavy cream

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker.  I left the skins on the potatoes, which seemed heartier - exactly what I was going for.  You could easily cut up all the veggies the night before, place in the stoneware insert, cover with the broth, and store in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, add the fish and put the insert into the slow cooker.  Reserve the final two ingredients (shrimp & cream) for later. 

Cook on low for 8-10 hours.  About half an hour before you're ready to serve, stir in the cream and shrimp and turn the slow cooker to high.  Serve garnished with fresh parsley and grated cheese, if you like.

16 February 2010

The Ugliest Cake Ever

It started out innocently enough.  I decided at the last minute that I wanted to bake my husband a birthday cake.  No big deal, right?  Well, then some stipulations were made.  I had just made a chocolate-peanut butter dessert three days ago, so I wanted to avoid that combo, which happens to be Andrew's favorite.  It had to be cake (I don't know why!) so I didn't make gingerbread men (his second favorite).  And it had to be something I had in my pantry, since it was snowing like crazy and I didn't want to go to the store, and it was already the day of his birthday when I decided to make the cake.  Let's just say...all these stipulations?  They're the stuff disasters are made of.

I had a Triple Fudge cake mix, so I decided to start there.  After searching around on the Betty Crocker website for a while, I found this recipe.  A layer of cake, then fudge, then more cake?  Yes please!  The only difference I made was that I forgot to reserve one cup of the crumbly cake mix, instead mixing it all together with the applesauce and eggs.  This worked out okay, though if I had created the crumbly layer, I wouldn't have tried to make a layered cake, and none of the following would have happened.

I cut the cake in half while it was still in the 13x9.  My intention was to stack it on a cake stand and make a square layered cake.  When I put the first half on the cake stand, it was a little too large, and it broke.  For some inexplicable reason, I tried the other half, and wouldn't you know, being the same size as the first half, it broke too.  So there I was with four broken pieces of a cake that I had just made.

After some consideration, I opted to cut the two larger pieces into circles, and the two smaller pieces into half circles.  I stacked the three circles on top of one another, then made this icing and poured it over the top.  It was delicious...but ugly.  Like, really ugly.  This is definitely the most hideous cake I have ever made.

I will totally understand if one of you submits this to Cake Wrecks.  Luckily, the cake was delicious, the frosting was yummy, and we ate almost all of it.  I saved the off-cuts from the circles for snacking!  Anyway, the reason I showed you all this cake is because I promised when I started this blog I would share my disasters.  There haven't been too many lately, save for putting my fingers through the electric mixer, but this was too horrifying not to share!

Happy Birthday Andrew!

12 February 2010

Happy Friday!

I've never done a "wrap-up" post, but I thought I'd give it a try.  Today is Friday, two days before Valentine's Day, four days before my husband's birthday, five days before my birthday, and seven days before my mommy comes to visit!  Lots of exciting things happening in the next week for us!

I will try to post regularly over the next week - I have a lot of delicious things to share, from panini to pasta, plus a fish chowder that will knock your socks off!

In the meantime, here's what I'm up to.  Tonight, we'll be watching the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics.  I love the Olympics - the athleticism, the national pride, watching the whole world come together on the Olympic stage - it's certainly an eventful two weeks!  I think it's pretty neat that the symbol you see above is Ilaanaq - the Inuit word for friend.  For dinner tonight, I'm attempting Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon - wish me luck!

On Valentine's Day, Andrew and I always spend the evening at home.  Rather than fighting the crowds and paying inflated restaurant prices, we make a nice meal and cuddle on the couch with a glass of wine.  Last year, I made a beautiful spread for Valentine's Day, and I'm planning something similar this year.  I typically don't set the table with candles and centerpieces, but for V-Day, I'll make an exception.


For dinner I'll be making Chicken Piccata and Garbage Bag Caesar Salad.  Not too fancy, but definitely delicious!

Earlier in the week, I made these fantastic Banana Carrot Walnut Muffins again, and they are just as good as I remembered them.  This is a great way to use up old bananas (or old carrots!) before they go bad.  Last time I made these, I mentioned that the muffins could have been bigger.  This time, I made a double batch and filled the muffin cups much higher.  I got a total of 22 big muffins from the double batch, when last time, I got 18 very small muffins from the single batch.  The good news is, one muffin is definitely enough for breakfast.  The bad news is, Andrew really likes these and has eaten 3 muffins a day since I made them.  Time to throw the rest in the freezer! 

Hope you enjoyed this little synopsis of my week!  I'll do my best to post more delicious recipes and marginally decent photos as soon as I can.  Happy Valentine's Day!

11 February 2010

Spinach Artichoke Chicken Pizza


I love pizza.  I always have.  But here's the thing:  I don't like sauce on my pizza.  Nowadays, that's no big deal, since there are so many "gourmet" varieties of white pizza out there.  As a kid, it was a nightmare.  I would come home hungry from every childhood birthday party, the roller skating rink, and Girl Scout meetings.  If the pizza wasn't too "saucy", I could pull off the cheese and pepperoni with a fork and eat that.  But it wasn't the same as getting to eat a pizza that I really liked.

Working at a pizza place throughout high school and college, I got to experiment A LOT with various toppings, and came up with some crazy combinations.  (pepperoni, eggplant, and ricotta, anyone?)  I still like to experiment with white pizza toppings, and Andrew is pretty tolerant of that.  When I can't be bothered to make crust, I use whole-wheat Boboli breads.  (I talked about Boboli a while ago)

For this pizza, I make a low-fat Spinach-Artichoke-Chicken dip, then spread it liberally on a whole-wheat crust.  See, I bolded the parts that tell you how good this is for you!


Spinach Artichoke Chicken Pizza
 adapted from this dip recipe on Epicurious

2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. reduced fat cream cheese (I use Neufchatel)
2 c. shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 c. fat-free sour cream
1/3 c. low-fat mayo
1/4 c. fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1 can marinated artichokes, rinsed and chopped
10 oz. package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (use paper towels in a colander)
1 c. cooked chicken, chopped
2 prepared whole-wheat pizza crusts

Preheat oven to temperature indicated on prepared pizza crust package.  Make sure spinach is as dry as possible so that the juices don't mess with your mixture.

Combine all ingredients (except crust of course!) in a medium-sized bowl.  Spread on the crust, leaving 1-2" perimeter around the edge.  Bake according to directions on pizza crust.  I think mine is typically 10-15 minutes at 400-425 degrees.  Just keep an eye on it to make sure it is heating through and the top is browning (if you want it to!)

05 February 2010

Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting

So, World Nutella Day is today, February 5, and in order to assist you in celebrating this illustrious holiday, I present to you a slammin' chocolate cupcake recipe from my friend Samantha (who brought us this and this) and an AMAZING Nutella frosting.  If you've never had Nutella, stop reading this, go to the store, and report back once you've bought some.  I'll wait.

Got it?  Good.  Let's move on.

Chocolate Cupcakes

Start with one box of chocolate cake mix.

Using the measurements on the cake mix box as your guide, make the following changes:

-Replace the oil with melted butter
-Replace the water with chocolate milk
-Add one box instant chocolate pudding.

Line muffin pans with paper liners, fill, and bake according to box directions.  I was able to get 16 large and 12 mini muffins out of this recipe.  When they are finished baking, remove to racks to cool.

In the meantime, prepare your frosting and learn more about World Nutella Day from its creators - here and here.

Nutella Frosting
from The Unrepentant Carbivore

1 c. powdered sugar
1 c. Nutella
5 tbsp. unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 c. heavy cream

Combine first five ingredients in the bowl of your KA mixer (or use a handheld electric mixer) and beat until ingredients are fully combined and mixture is fluffy.  Add the cream and beat until it is fully incorporated and the batter is "light and smooth".

Frost the cupcakes and immediately bring at least a dozen to the neighbor's house, as I did.  Otherwise, you will end up eating them all, and nobody wants to get sick on World Nutella Day, right?

04 February 2010

Lemon Cheesecake Cheese Ball


Everybody makes mistakes in the kitchen.  Maybe you've doubled a recipe but forget to double the sugar, and can't figure out why your cookies aren't quite right.  Perhaps you've started the blender before you put the top on and ended up with butternut squash puree all over your kitchen.  But...have you ever put your fingers through a hand mixer?

I was rushing to get this dessert put together to bring to my in-laws' house.  I was trying to get the cheese ball combined, the strawberries washed, find some cookies, pack it all up, and do my hair all at the same time.  I wasn't paying attention.  And my hand mixer snatched my spatula - and my hand - and ran it all through the whirring beaters.  Can we say OUCH?  As if it wasn't bad enough that three of my fingers were now bruised and bleeding (luckily not into the mixing bowl), cream cheese was everywhere.  Ev.ery.where.  After wiping cream cheese off every knife in my knife block, the food processor, my shirt, the counter, wall, floor, and sink, and bandaging my hand...I still had to finish the dessert.  Darn.

I packed everything up to bring to Ann and Vern's house and finish assembling it there.

Despite its disastrous beginnings, this cheese ball is quite good.  As we were eating this, we were thinking of a million other combinations that would be delicious - mix in chocolate chips and roll in crushed Oreos, sub in orange juice and zest and roll in dark chocolate shavings, and on and on.  You could really do anything with this base recipe, and it would make a great dessert at a shower, brunch, or cocktail party.

Lemon Cheesecake Cheese Ball
from Annie's Eats

10 oz. cream cheese
2-1/2 tbsp. sugar
zest of 1 large lemon
4 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
graham cracker crumbs

Beat together the cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add lemon zest and juice, beat to combine.

Dump mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap.  Carefully roll into a ball, making sure it is completely covered in plastic.

Chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours.  Reshape the ball if necessary, then remove from plastic wrap.  Roll the ball in graham cracker crumbs (I think I used about 1/3 cup).  Serve with fruit, cookies, and whatever else you'd like!

We ate a delicious dinner of lamb, two potato gratin, fresh bread, and salad, prepared by Ann!

Then we ate this delicious cheese ball, which I opted to serve with sliced green apples, fresh strawberries, and gingersnaps.

03 February 2010

Chocolate Oatmeal Almost-Candy Bars


Have you ever made a dessert so sinfully delicious that you knew you couldn't be trusted around it?  In a four hour span, I found this recipe, made the treats, cut them up, ate four, and packed the majority onto a plate to send to work with Andrew the next day.  I kept almost two dozen of these little guys, and I think Andrew ate maybe two.  So yeah.  Let's just say it's a good thing I've been at the gym four days a week, because these babies are irresistible!

You can get the full recipe here.  It's a lot of steps, but honestly, I didn't find it much more complicated than making chocolate chip cookies, and the extra effort is SO worth it.  I do want to tell you about some of the small things I did a little differently.

This recipe calls for old-fashioned rolled oats, but all I had was quick-cooking oats.  Guess what?  It turned out FINE.  Good to know, right?  Also, I like raisins, don't get me wrong...but they just don't belong in these bars!  I omitted them.

Lastly, it's recommended to eat these bars chilled, or even frozen.  Um, why?  They are SO good at room temperature!  Obviously, feel free to chill to your heart's content, if you so desire.  I'm just saying, these are perfectly fantastic hacked right off of this big hunk about 5 minutes after you heft it out of the pan. 

Also, I cut this into WAY more than 32 pieces...they are so rich, and I personally prefer to eat four tiny ones than two big ones.  Maybe that's just me?

Anyway, this is a fun recipe!  It's definitely not fancy, but it's a nice change from chocolate chip cookies or brownies, and would be a great treat to bring to a Super Bowl party this weekend!

Wild Rice Stuffed Onions

The recipe for these wild rice stuffed onions was passed to me by my friend Anna the last time I was complaining that I was bored of my usual side dishes.  I've made them twice since I got my hands on this recipe, and everyone who has tried them adores them!

After cooking the rice with a mirepoix (that classic combo of carrots, celery, and onions), you stuff partly-cooked, hollowed out onions with the rice mixture, then bake in the oven.  Served in its onion shell, this side dish is pretty enough to grace a holiday dinner table, but easy enough to serve on a weeknight when you've got some extra time.

Wild Rice Stuffed Onions
makes 6 servings

6 large onions  (Spanish or Vidalia work well)
1-1/2 c. long grain wild rice
3 c. water
2 tbsp. butter
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
dried sage & dried thyme
poultry seasoning
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 425.

Slice a very small piece off the "bottom" of the onion - that would be the end with the stringy roots.  This will make the onion sit flat in its baking dish.  Slice off a slightly larger piece of the top (the part that comes to a papery point).  Remove the skin from the top piece and set it aside.  Remove the skin from the onion.  Repeat this with all six onions.

Using a knife, make a conical cut into the middle of the onion.  Be careful not to cut too far into it, as you want to preserve the sides and bottom as a shell.  You will want at least two rings of onion to remain so that it stays sturdy enough to hold the rice.  Remove the cone, then use a spoon to core the onion, taking care to leave at least 1/2" at the bottom.  Chop the onion that you removed from the cores, set aside.

Combine water and rice, bring to a boil.  Drop the heat to a simmer, stir, and cover the rice for approximately 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, place the onions (without their tops) in a lightly greased baking dish.  Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.  Remove the onions and drop the oven heat to 375 degrees. 

While onions are baking and rice is cooking, heat the butter in a very large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the carrots, celery, and about 1/2 cup of the chopped onion.  Reserve the remaining onion for another use.  Season with herbs, poultry seasoning, and salt and pepper. 

When the rice is cooked, add it to the skillet.  Stir to combine the rice with the vegetables, then remove pan from the heat.


Using a large spoon, stuff the onions with the vegetable-rice mixture.  Mound up the tops slightly.

Place the reserved "tops" onto the onions and place them back in the oven (now at 375 degrees) for about 20 minutes.  
I think these would be really good filled with stuffing for Thanksgiving, or with orzo in pesto sauce...the possibilities are endless!  Thanks again to Anna for such a beautiful recipe!