Tuesday, December 27, 2011

{Spicy Cheese Dip} Say Cheese!!

I like cheese a whole bunch, I especially love cheese when it is warm, melty and I can dip stuff in it like chips, soft pretzels, carrots, broccoli, spoons and fingers.  

This cheese dip is good enough to drink alone, and today has been one of those days where I could drown my sorrows in cheese, but I digress...
Here is the most delicious cheese dip recipe.  

First you melt 1/4 cup of butter. Medium/low heat. 

Grate 1 cup of pepper jack cheese and bust out a couple of slices of good old American Processed Cheese Food (yeah, they can't even call it "cheese" but it melts so nicely and adds a nice American cheese flavor)

Add 3 Tbsp. of flour to the butter and whisk it until it is thick and smooth.  On a medium/low heat. Then...

Add the pepper jack to the pot and stir it up until it melts.  I know this part is not typical of a cheese sauce, but trust me on this move.
Add in heavy cream and turn the heat up a bit to get the cream warm but not curdled. 
This is not for the low-fat dieters...just use it in moderation (that's my rule of thumb).  And you can see my cheater, from a box, frozen soft pretzels.  I have made them from scratch before, but I was just so hung up on the idea of soft pretzels and cheese I went the short cut route...but next time... I will make these Homemade Soft Pretzel Bites from "Two Peas and Their Pod"   They look divine!!
 Mix the cream in and stir really good until melted and blended together then add in the cheese slices and whisk until melted. 
Bust out some good sliced jalapeno peppers. And give some a chop to your liking.  I did about 4, but add more if you like spicy.  And I added in 1 Tbsp of the jalapeno juice from the jar.  Mix, mix, mix until incorporated. 
I got in my own light...the lighting in my kitchen is terrible right now. But you get the picture. Chopped jalapenos...check!
Then you get yourself something to dip with, really just a utensil for feeding yourself luscious, melty cheese.  I chose a soft pretzel this time.  The next day I had some with a few chips like nachos.  Mmmmmm....

So gooey, yummy, melty, good!!

(Cheese Dip)

1/4 cup butter
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
3 slices of American cheese slices
3 Tbsp. flour
1 cup heavy cream
Chopped jalapeno slices from a jar
1 Tbsp. jalapeno juice from the jar
Pinch of salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium/low heat, add the flour and stir until smooth.  Add in the pepper jack until melted.  Add heavy cream, turn your heat up a bit to warm the cream but do not curdle it, whisk until incorporated and smooth.  Add in the cheese slices, stir to incorporate, cheese sauce will start to thicken.  Add in your chopped jalapenos and the jalapeno juice.  Stir until all incorporated and to your thickness liking.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper.

Makes about 2.5 cups of dip.  Serve on broccoli, dip chips, dip pretzels, dip fingers, dip veggies...enjoy!!

*To reheat the dip the following day, add a splash of milk or cream and reheat in the microwave or on stove top.  Whisk until smooth.    

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chicken, Fettucini and An Anniversary: {Meet the C Family}

As an Army wife we know that there is always the possibility that our husband will miss a birth, a birthday, an Anniversary, multiple holidays and special moments but it is pretty rare when the husband leaves on the *actual* date of the event.  My friend Kimberly's husband just so happened to leave the morning of their 6 year wedding anniversary, so what better way than to distract her with good eats, my two wild children and a couple of rambunctious dogs.  An Anniversary to remember!!

I had the pleasure of meeting Kimberly at a bible study group at our last duty station, Fort Irwin, CA.  That was the most remote post known to man, 35 miles from the nearest town, one road in and one road out...the world's most secure and largest cul-de-sac.  Our world was really small there; commissary, PX, a couple of lousy post restaurants and a whole ton of sand!!  This is a picture I took of a Joshua Tree when we lived there...see...LOTS of SAND!!

So coming to Alaska is living the dream!  I know that Kimberly and her husband Tim would agree that Alaska has been so awesome, our husbands are already scheming up a trip to climb Denali (Mount McKinley) in the summer of 2014!   

This is a picture I took from our balcony in Alaska, see the difference? HA HA!!

Meet the Conrads!!  Kimberly and Tim.  He's outdoorsy, and wears those funny toe running shoes, he said he would run from their house to ours (12 miles) in the snow on Thanksgiving, but Kimberly thought it was weird if he showed up on our porch for Thanksgiving all sweaty! LOL.  She wears cute socks and scarves, teaches Yoga, loves to read and drink wine.  She even has a book club she started up called Read 'Em and Drink.  They are so cute and have six kids between the two of them, one sweet dog named Jack, and one adorable grandson.       

This is Kimberly's second deployment, but Tim has been through a few more (he's been in for 16 years...the end is in sight dude!) she is not crazy about cooking, but she likes to eat and I like to cook so we make a pretty good pair.

*Do you have a recipe that you have wanted to make but are too afraid to tackle on your own?
  K:   I was a little afraid of the potato and leek soup...mostly of the leeks...but, it turned out perfect :)
(Leeks can be scary especially because of all that sand and grit that hangs out inside of them...I want some of that soup Kimberly!!)

Here is Jack...he is so sweet!!

*Favorite foods:
  K:   This is difficult...I have a TON of foods that I consider "FAVS" ... it all depends on my mood...but, I would have to say that I always love salad...well, salad dressing :) ...all different kinds ~ but good salad dressing makes me happy! I also love cheese....and popcorn.
Kimberly with the GIANT icicle I left on her porch one day :D

It was a good thing I opted to stick a salad into the menu, I made the Gorgeously Green Salad Dressing recipe and served it on top of Organic Romaine with some cranberries and walnuts. It was a simple salad but I nice blend of flavors. The balsamic in the dressing is my absolute favorite part!! The great thing is I know what is in the salad dressing and it all stuff that I can pronounce unlike the store bought dressings that have words in them with too many 'x's and not enough vowels.  Visit the link above to check out the recipe! 

My girls adore Kimberly...she is no longer considered
"company" because I don't clean the toilets for her ;)

*What has been your most favorite duty station?
 K:  I would have to say Germany, although Alaska seems pretty amazing too!

*What are your proudest Army moments?
  K:  Every time I hear our National Anthem play on post, I get goose bumps!

*If you could share a meal with anyone dead or alive who would it be and why?
   K:  Three people...My grandparents, Mama Paul and Daddy Mac...and my great-grandmother Mama Nanny.  They each passed away when I was in my teens or early twenties...too young to pay attention to their good advice...I would love a second chance to talk to them!  Plus my Mama Nanny made the BEST homemade biscuits!!!!

(Mmmmm...like a real Southern Grandma!)

I hope that Mama Nanny would be proud of what I made for you.  We shared Garlic roasted chicken, lemon pepper fettucini, salad and some crusty bread.  (I give myself only 2 points for plating, but 10 points for flavor and execution, there was lot going on that evening.)

I love recipes like these because they taste so good and contain only a few ingredients.  I like to use a whole chicken for this recipe, with the skin on.  I cut the chicken all up by myself, I feel like butchering a whole chicken allows a lot of the moisture to be retained in the meat rather than buying skin on chicken parts.  If you don't know how to dissect a chicken, here is a great tutorial on how to do it.  I usually leave the legs as a whole quarter with the thigh attached, but you can follow through like she does on the tutorial if you like. How to cut up a whole chicken.

{Garlic Roasted Chicken with Rosemary} Adapted from Food Network

1 whole chicken (cut up) or buy a mix of skin on chicken pieces or skin on breasts only. About 1.5 lbs. worth.
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 head of garlic
4 sprigs of rosemary
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Heat the olive oil in a large oven proof skillet over medium-high heat.  Rinse and pat dry the chicken pieces.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook skin side down, until browned about 5 minutes. 

Separate the head of garlic into cloves and peel.  Here is one of my tips to peeling a whole bulb of garlic .  Flip the chicken over, add the garlic and rosemary to the pan.  Transfer the the oven for 15-20 minutes, basting the chicken half way through.  Cook until done, but still tender.
Serve with some crusty, toasted bread for spreading the garlic on.  

{Toasted French Bread}

Just in case you have never done this.  Cut up a loaf of french bread into rounds.  Place on a cookie sheet.  Drizzle olive oil all over one side of the bread.  Place under the broiler on high for about 5 minutes.  Keep a CLOSE EYE on this as it can quickly go from golden and toasty to burnt to a crisp in no time.  Enjoy spreading the roasted garlic cloves right onto this bread...it's like butta' but betta'!

{Lemon Pepper Fettucini} Adapted from Food Network

12 ounces of fettucini noodles
1 Tbsp. butter
1 small onion diced into small pieces
1 3/4 cups of heavy cream
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp. lemon zest finely grated
1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese, grated
salt and fresh ground pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the fettucini and cook according to package directions.  
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and a pinch of salt.  Stir frequently until onion is translucent and soft.  Whisk the cream, lemon zest, some freshly ground pepper and egg yolk together.  Reduce the heat to low and add the cream mixture to the skillet, stirring so the yolk does not scramble.  Bring the heat up to a light simmer and add in the cheese, stir until melted in.  Add a dash more salt and a good amount of freshly ground pepper.  Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss.  Garnish with more grated parmesan if desired. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

LaDeeDaDee...We all like Biscotti!

If you are seeing this post it means that the DK365 page has reached 65 Facebook fans or more!! Woot Woot! Thank you! 

Let me take you step by step through one of the most delicious, fancy cookies I adore...Biscotti!  I do not know why the stores charge you an arm and a leg for biscotti.  Armed with my mixer it takes me about 10 minutes to prep, contains only several ingredients which you might have at this very moment, and it is only slightly labor intensive as you shape, bake, cool, cut and rebake it.  My Mother in law showed me how to make it years ago (this is not her recipe, but sort of a mash up of ones I like) and it is now one of my favorite Christmas cookies to bake and gift away.  

This recipe is a Christmas gift to you and yours.  Biscotti makes awesome Christmas presents, put it in a cellophane package with a ribbon, or in a coffee mug with a sample size of ground coffee and a chocolate dipped spoon and give to your favorite neighbor, teacher, dentist or BFF...got your attention yet?  I thought I would!  Aren't they cute in just a simple little Christmas bag? I just gave some to my carpool friend this morning like this :)

I am going to take you through two different kinds of biscotti, but once you have it down you can pretty much add any combination of flavors and I will tell you how later.

{Chocolate Biscotti}
First you cream the butter with the sugar.  I like to use my paddle attachment for this but a hand mixer will do the job too.  Soften the butter for an easier time with this.   

Then you add in the 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
Two eggs
A little of the flour at a time for a total of 1 3/4 cups. Slow down your mixer before you do this part or you will end up with a flour facial!  This picture is not a good example of slowing down the mixer.
But this one is...scrape down the bowl and make sure all the flour is incorporated.
Add some chocolate chips...how ever many you like.  I eye ball it to be about 1/4 cup.

Scrape down your bowl and get a cookie sheet ready with some parchment paper on it.  Parchment is a cookies best friend.
Then plop your dough out on to the cookie sheet.  I made a double batch here, so normally you would just have one biscotti lump to form...I have two! ;)
Use a bit of parchment left over from cutting the parchment to fit your sheet and shape and mold the dough into a flat, oblong dough lump/log...about 1/2 inch tall and about 8 inches wide.
Then plop those guys in a preheated oven at 375 to bake for 20-25 minutes. If you press gently on the center after 20 minutes and there is a lot of give then put it in for 5 more minutes, or use the toothpick trick.

Remove the biscotti from the oven and allow it to cool completely on the cookie sheet.  Biscotti (and especially the chocolate version) is extremely delicate at this point so just leave it until it is totally cool and you will cut it.

Once the biscotti has cooled for the first time, take a serrated bread knife, and carefully cut the biscotti into 1/2 inch pieces at a diagonal.  I often cut the largest middle pieces in half for consistency in baking and uniformity in packaging.  I suppose you could split it up and make two smaller logs so they are all *purdy like* but I like the hand made look.  If you cut them in half, they won't be exactly like in the store all perfectly rounded, etc. But hey...these are handmade biscotti we are talking about here!!  And feel free to eat the end pieces while you wait for them to bake a second time.
Carefully place them back onto the parchment lined cookie sheet flat side down. Admire how beautiful they look and place them into the oven at 325 for 9 minutes, then flip them over to the other flat side and bake them for another 9 minutes.  9 minutes a side gives these biscotti a non-tooth-breaking texture.  You won't have to dip them in your coffee nearly as long this way but if you want them crunchier than bake a bit longer.  When you remove them the second time from the oven you might not think they are crispy enough...they will get harder as they cool.
Once they are cooled again, you can melt yourself some chocolate and dip the long edges into the chocolate and allow it to set up on the cookie sheet and then they have the third addition of chocolate and for a Chocoholic like me that is the final and necessary touch! 

{Cranberry Orange Biscotti}
The same basic dough is started for this Cranberry Orange biscotti as the chocolate biscotti.
Get out your dried cranberries and an orange.
Cream the butter and sugar.
Then add orange zest.  Use a fancy zester like this, or you can use a veggie peeler and then chop it finely and add it to the bowl.  I get no endorsement from "The Pampered Chef" but I wish I did!!  I love this knife!!  
Add some baking soda and baking powder.
And the flour just like before...a little at a time.
Chop up 1/4 cup of dried cranberries.

Scrape the bowl down.

Shape it into the shape for baking just as before and bake in a 375 degree preheated oven.

Let it cool completely on the cookie sheet before cutting.

Once it is cool, cut it with a serrated bread knife. I keep the ends out and snack on them while I wait for them to bake the second time, this time at 325 degrees.

I cut the biscotti in half to stretch it some and make them a more reasonable and consistent size. Then bake them on parchment (or in this case I am using a stone) for about 9-13 minutes a side or until they are crisp and lightly browned.  This version take longer than the chocolate ones to bake for the second time, if you like them crispier than keep them in longer, but remember they will crunch more once cooled.

{The Recipes}

-Chocolate Biscotti-
1/3 cup of butter softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup chocolate chips or chunks
Cream butter and sugar together.  Add cocoa powder, and baking powder; beat until combined.  Beat in the eggs.  Beat flour in, a little at a time.  Stir in or mix in the chocolate pieces. 
Shape the dough into an 8 inch wide by 1 inch tall flattened log.  Place dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.  Allow to cool completely on the baking sheet before cutting it.
Transfer the cooled biscotti to a cutting board and cut at a diagonal approximately 1/2 inch wide slices.  Place the slices flat side down the parchment cookie sheets again and bake at 325 degrees for about 8 or 9 minutes, turn over and bake for another 8 or 9 minutes or until cookies are dry and crisp.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool. 

-Cranberry Orange Biscotti-
1/3 cup of butter softened
2/3 cup sugar
4 tsp. finally shredded orange peel
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Cream butter and sugar together.  Add orange zest, baking powder and baking soda, beat until combined.  Beat in the eggs.  Beat flour in, a little at a time.   
Shape the dough into an 8 inch wide by 1 inch tall flattened log.  Place dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.  Allow to cool completely on the baking sheet before cutting it.
Transfer the cooled biscotti to a cutting board and cut at a diagonal approximately 1/2 inch wide slices.  Place the slices flat side down the parchment cookie sheets again and bake at 325 degrees for about 9-13 minutes, turn over and bake for another 9-13 minutes or until cookies are dry and crisp.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool. 
{Variations on Biscotti Flavors}
**You can use the Cranberry Orange recipe as a base and take out the cranberry and orange zest and add any of these combinations in their place.

-Omit orange zest and add in lemon zest and poppy seeds
-Add almond slivers and 1 tsp. of almond extract for almond biscotti
-Add in pistachios, cranberries and white chocolate chips for a Christmasy look
-Add in any other finely chopped dried fruits
-Add in peppermint extract to the chocolate biscotti, dip them in melted chocolate and stick on some crushed candy cane pieces.
-Add caramel pieces and a caramel or chocolate drizzle
-Add peanut butter chips and chocolate chips
-Add chopped banana chips to the chocolate biscotti alone or with chocolate chunks
-Dip, drizzle and roll them in any kind of chocolate you like; white, milk, dark chocolate. Roll in coconut, nuts, sprinkles, mini-chocolate chips...drizzle the chocolate on. The options are up to you!!

ENJOY!! Merry Christmas!! Happy dipping ;)


Tip Junkie handmade projects

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chicken Tortilla Soup for the Soul {Meet the M Family}

     Sound the trumpets....Buh buh ba dahh!! (I think I would be much better suited for video blogging with all the sound effects I make) but if you have a creative mind you can hear what I do.  ***VERY FIRST DEPLOYMENT DINNER BLOG POST!!!***

     And, as with many other kinds of "firsts" it is a little shaky, not quite how I envisioned it but with all of our guys deploying around us I can safely say that motivation is lacking right now.  I plan on December being the month of healing, then ladies, we all better BRING IT!! ;) My first Deployment Dinner was a little rushed by both the weather and the need to see a dear friend off before she caught a plane, but here is what you can expect: an intro of the family, a bit about how I know the family, a few pictures, and a couple interview questions and answers spread through out and then the recipe for what we ate!! In the future I am hoping for more pictures of the family, the food, etc but it is a work in progress. Enjoy!!  

The first Deployment Dinner took place surrounded by some high winds, freezing rain and an impending flight back to Ohio.  Meet the 'M' Family; Cullen (deployed Daddy hero), Jessica (Awesome Army Wife and Mommy), and the kiddos P-Man and L. 

It was the perfect weather for some tummy warming soup, and some good conversation between friends; I met Jessica during the Yellow Garter event where we shot weapons, drove Humvees, Ruck marched and jumped out of a 35 foot Airborne training tour which pretty much made us totally awesome Army Wives!  Jessica claims to have, "the gift of gab" and the funny thing is SO DO I!!  It made for a quick friendship and it helps that we have kids about the same age.  P-Man and my little Cha Cha have become BFFs and plan on having Skype dates over the next few months and L and my Moo Moo have become great friends when they get the chance to play.

Jessica's husband Cullen is a Medic; this is their first duty station and first deployment.  I have a strong connection to Medics, as many of you know that is what I was when I was in the Army (gasp!! you were in the Army?) Yes...and in fact, Jessica *LOVES* to tell everyone that little tid bit of information when she introduces me to people.  I think it is sweet, and funny, she thinks I am pretty rad.  I have to say I think she is pretty rad too.   

Jessica grew up in the great state of Ohio like my Mom! Go Buckeyes??!!?? Can I say that?  I don't follow sports but I do enjoy making peanut butter "Buckeyes" but I leave mine blind- no eyes (totally off topic).  Another recipe...another time.

I know how hard a first deployment can be Jess, but you are strong, kind hearted and a loyal friend.  Your faith and strength will get you through this.  You make some delicious soft ginger snaps (not so snappy...but still so delicious) and I look forward to when you return so that I can have some more cookies, chats and chai with you!  Or at least you can drink the chai and I will drink the coffee.  

*What foods can’t you wait to eat while your husband is away?
Thin mints

*What has been your most challenging moment (or two) over the last years in the Army?
Adjusting to AK!
(I will agree, AK as a first duty station would be a little bit of a shock!)

While the Mommy's were going to sit and enjoy a delicious bowl of Chicken Tortilla Soup the kids enjoyed a deployment standby...chicken nuggets! There was steamed broccoli though :)

*What helps you through a deployment?

*What’s a typical evening meal like in your home?
Meat, potato, veggie, we are Irish after all, always a potato!
(I love that!)
*Your proudest kitchen moment:
(I will say girl, you can bake!!)
*Your worst kitchen moment:
Cullen telling me after 5 yrs of marriage that he really doesn’t like this dish or that one or that one. 
<yikes Jess!  I don't know how Cullen will feel about Chicken Tortilla Soup, but it might be something to add to the recipe box>

I love how bright and colorful this chicken tortilla soup is!!  This soup includes chipotle chili peppers in adobo which can be found in a can on the ethnic food aisle with the Hispanic foods, and even though this recipe only uses 1/2 to 1 whole pepper you can freeze the remaining peppers for other recipes, chili, or more tortilla soup.  The peppers add a nice smoky, spice to the soup and shouldn't be omitted, at least not in my opinion.  If you like more spice, add more chipotle pepper or a dash of hot sauce to your own bowl.  This is such a fresh, filling and tasty soup that tastes great the next day as leftovers and even freezes well.

{Chicken Tortilla Soup}
adapted from Rachael Ray's 365 No Repeats Recipe book

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
Salt and ground pepper
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 Tbsp. ground coriander
1/2 Chipotle chili pepper in adobo finely chopped (you can add more if you like it spicier)
1 large onion chopped
1 small bag of frozen yellow corn
1 red bell pepper, chopped
5 Tbsp flour
3-4 cans of chicken broth (enough to cover) 
2, 15 oz. cans of black beans (rinsed and drained)
Squirt of lime
Dash of hot sauce (I prefer Tapatio)
Tortilla chips
1/4 cup chopped, fresh cilantro and shredded cheese for garnish

Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add chicken, season with salt and pepper, cumin, coriander, and chipotle pepper.  Cook until the chicken is lightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the onion, corn kernels and red bell pepper.  Cook, stirring frequently for about 3 minutes.  Dust the chicken and vegetables with the flour, stir until the flour coats everything.  Add the chicken broth and turn the heat up to high.  Bring the soup to a simmer and then add the black beans.  Simmer the soup for 30 minutes or until it reaches a consistency you like.  Stir frequently.  Add a squirt of lime, a dash of Tapatio hot sauce and salt and pepper to taste.  
Crush a handful of tortilla chips and add to the bottom of a soup bowl.  Ladle soup over the chips (the tortilla part comes in), top with cheese and fresh, chopped cilantro.  Enjoy!!  Will make 4-6 generous servings.