Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Easiest Corn Chowder

As many of my past posts might suggest, I am not one to shy away from one pot dinners. And not only one pot dinners, but dinners that use the grocery store to it's fullest. I really feel that the right personal touches can make a seemingly uninteresting meal into something special and individual.

This creamy, warm, and delicious soup is one such example. Everyone loves a good chowder, but how often do we take the initiative to make it ourselves?! This is absolutely the place to start. Here it is, the EASIEST (and very delicious) Corn Chowder.

Here's what you need:
1 can whole kernel corn (14.5 oz)
1 can cream style corn (14.5 oz)
1 can condensed potato soup (10 oz)
1 medium onion, diced
4 slices of bacon, diced
1.5 large potatoes, cubed
2 cups milk
1 cup fat free chicken broth

Here's what you do:
In a large sauce pot, saute the onions and bacon until the onions are translucent and the bacon is cooked crisp. Who doesn't LOVE bacon?!

Add the milk, broth, corn kernels, cream style corn, and soup. Stir to combine and bring to a boil.(Here is where the grocery store is really helping!)

Add the potatoes to the soup. Bring soup to a boil. Season with salt and pepper, as always.

Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring ocassionally.
When the potatoes are tender, the soup is ready to enjoy!

I am realizing now what a bad blogger I am! I was SO excited about this dinner that I didn't get a picture of the final product. Essentially, it is a slightly thick soup with lovely chunks of potato and bacon throughout. The color is a nice, pale yellow. The taste, of course, is a little sweet, a little salty, and a whole lot of heartwarming.

I should mention that this was the first time I used chicken broth in this recipe. I enjoy a really nice, thick chowder. However I was trying to think of how I could cut the heaviness of this soup without compromising any of the flavor. The fat free broth is a little less intense of a flavor and worked perfectly. You get serious help in the thickness department from the potato soup and cream style corn that taking out one cup of milk (original recipe is 3 cups of milk) and replacing it with a light broth did just the trick!

This soup is truly spectacular hot out of the pot, and it is also great the next day for a nice, hearty lunch! I can't really think of anything wrong with this -- corn, bacon, and potatoes. What could be better? Next time you have a craving for a nice, classic chowder, give this recipe a try. It'll warm you right up :-)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Goat Cheese and Spinach Lasagna Roll-ups

You may need to take a second look at the title of this post until it sinks in. If you are wondering whether or not this was as delicious as it sounds, it WAS. I think I cleared my plate in .2 seconds.

The idea for my heavenly Sunday night meal came from a recipe in Cory's family. I made a few tweaks based on what I like and what I had available. The overall message, of course, was the same--this is a fun spin on a classic Italian recipe! Also, the cute little rolls let you really portion these out evenly and not have to worry about everything sliding apart as you would a traditional lasagna.

I would definitely recommend making this on a weekend night or a day off. It takes a little bit of assembly but the end product was a hit around here. If the pictures don't make your mouth water, give this recipe a try -- you won't be disappointed!

Recipe for Goat Cheese and Spinach Lasagna Roll-ups, in a thick Pesto Sauce

What you need:

For the Roll-ups
1 box cooked lasagna noodles (I used about 13). Cooked ALDENTE!
2 egg whites
4 cups of ricotta cheese (part skim, because we are "watching our figures")
4 to 6 ounces of fresh goat cheese
2 to 3 handfuls of fresh spinach
1/2 cup of grated Monterey Jack cheese
salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces or so of fresh shredded mozzarella cheese

For the Sauce
2 cups fresh basil, cleaned and stems pulled off
4 cloves of fresh garlic
1 cup toasted pine nuts (takes about 5 minutes in the oven (do not burn!)
3/4 cup of olive oil
1 1/2 cup or more of grated Parmesan-Romano cheese
1/4 cup fat free half and half (once again, "watching our figures")

Here's what you do:
Start by cooking your lasagna noodles (do not break) in a generously salted pot of boiling water. Strain and let them cool for a bit. You don't want them to sit out too long because they should still be flexible and not sticky when you roll.
Prepare the sauce while the noodles are cooking. The base of this sauce is from my good friend and fellow food connoisseur, Lauren Jensen. The first 5 ingredients are from her mom's outstanding pesto recipe. I simply added the half and half, and took out a little bit of the olive oil so it held up a little better in the oven.
Start by dropping the basil, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor or blender and start chopping.
Slowly and gradually add the olive oil while the ingredients are mixing. Scrap down the blender to make sure you don't leave anything hanging!
Add the cheese, salt, and pepper and blend until it is just slightly lumpy. Blend in the half and half. This will make it a little creamy. YUM!

I have both a blender and a small food processor (thanks Santa!) so I prepped the filling in the food processor and my sauce in a blender. If you only have one of these amenities, make sure you use it for the pesto sauce and use a little bit of elbow grease for the filling.
OK. So. The amazing filling. Lightly beat the two egg whites with a fork. Add to food processor.
Add the ricotta, goat, and Monterey Jack cheeses. Mix until smooth (do not over mix because this will make it a little too watery. The thicker it is, the better it will hold up to the heat without oozing out of the lasagna noodles).
Add the spinach and pulse a few times until chopped and evenly mixed. Salt and Pepper to taste.

I am truly and utterly obsessed with goat cheese. It is tangy, and smooth, and delicious. It adds a nice bite to this filling. Also, it cuts the grittiness of ricotta and makes the filling so much smoother. If you think you don't like Goat Cheese, I BEG YOU please try it out for the first time with this recipe. You won't be disappointed.
So now -- we must build our roll-ups! Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish with butter or non-stick cooking spray. Place one lasagna noodle on a clean plate. Brush about 2 to 3 tablespoons of your filling onto the noodle, leaving about 1 inch at the end to allow to overflow.

Gently roll the noodle and place, seam side down, in your baking dish.

Repeat until you have 2 rows of 6-8 roll ups.
Top with Pesto Sauce and Mozzarella cheese.

Is your mouth watering yet?
Pop in a 350 degree oven for 15-25 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the noodles are cooked through.
Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

I really love this recipe because as Cory and I were eating it, we were thinking of different ways we could make this. Adding a layer of meat to the filling, red sauce, different cheeses and veggies! There are so many things you can do to make this your own. It was a great dose of comfort food for a chilly Sunday evening.

So give this a try -- let me know what kind of creative liberties you take. I'm sure they will be nothing short of delicious!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Classic Banana Bread

I suppose February is my slacker month. A whole week plus has passed in this month and I haven't given you anything! Well, I suppose the only way to make up for that is with one of my favorite classic recipes that is adapted from The Joy of Cooking cookbook.

I don't bake very often so when I first decided I wanted to try this out, I was definitely nervous. I followed the recipe to a T (which, in general, is actually a very good practice in baking). Now, I make small variations here and there depending on what I have in my kitchen. Overall, though, I have to say that while this is a little more challenging than some of my other posts, anyone can do it if they are focused and hungry :-)

For those of us who live alone or with one other person, what is the ONE thing we always buy too much of and then have to eat a whole BUNCH in a day? Guesses?

BANANAS! That is correct. We've all been there...standing at the banana stand, staring at their yellow glory and thinking how awful you would feel if you broke the bunch and only bought 3 bananas instead of 6.

So we come home with six beautiful bananas, eat a few, and watch as the rest become brown, spotty creatures on top of the fridge. Now, you don't have to fret. POP THOSE BABIES IN THE FREEZER. Next, quickly gather up the following ingredients and get ready to make a delicious, fresh, addicting banana bread.

Here's what you need (all at room temperature):
3 very ripe bananas
2 eggs, beaten
1.5 cups flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cups of sugar
3/4 a stick of butter
1/2 cup nuts or semisweet chocolate chips

Here's what you do:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk together in a medium mixing bowl the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter at medium speed until creamy. I lost my patience at this step the first time but it is critical you get this mixed! I have a hand mixer and it works just great.
Once the butter and sugar are creamy, beat in the eggs and bananas. If you froze your bananas before making the bread, give them a few minutes to defrost. Your hands will get very cold if you don't exercise patience here. If you don't want as intense of a banana flavor, feel free to use 2 bananas. If you are using 3 bananas, you can rely on only one egg. However, if you are using only 2 bananas, be sure to use 2 eggs as well to keep the same moisture level in the bread.

In 3 parts, add the dry ingredients to the wet stuff. Be sure each part of the dry ingredients completely mixes with the wet ingredients before adding more.

If you choose, gently fold in chocolate chips, nuts, fruit, etc. Dusting these ingredients with a little touch of flour will prevent the add-ins from sinking to the bottom.
Grease your loaf pan and spread the batter evenly.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. For me, that required only about 35 minutes of baking. The original recipe calls for an hour. Be sure you know your oven and if this is your first time baking, keep a close eye on your loaf!
Anyway, here's the final product.

We added blueberries this time because we had them on hand and Cory and I love blueberries. I'd probably go back to chocolate chips the next time around, but this was NO LESS DELICIOUS! Yum yum yum.

Happy baking!