Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chicken Quesadilla Pie

And like that, Christmas seems to have come and gone.  I know that there's really supposed to be the "Twelve Days of Christmas," but when the music has stopped playing in the stores and the neighborhood lights are quickly growing dim, its leaving feels pretty abrupt.

That said, it doesn't feel as though the busyness of the holidays has slowed down for us yet and for these such times, I am thankful for meals like this one.  The quesadilla pie is made even simpler by utilizing that convenience dinner powerhouse, the rotisserie chicken.  It would also be a great use for any leftover cooked turkey.  Serve it up with salsa and sour cream.

Chicken Quesadilla Pie
1 10-inch four tortilla (burrito size)
1 rotisserie chicken, skin discarded, meat shredded into bite-sized pieces (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/3 cup drained jarred pickled jalapeƱos, chopped
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 450 degrees.  Grease a 9-inch pie plate.  Press tortilla into prepared pie plate and spray lightly with vegetable oil spray.  Toss chicken, cilantro, jalapeƱos, 1 cup cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in bowl until combined.  Spread filling over tortilla.

Whisk eggs, milk, flour, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl until smooth.  Slowly pour over filling, then sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Bake until surface is golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Let cool 5 minutes. Cut into wedges.  Serve.

Source: America's Test Kitchen: The Best Simple Recipes

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Make-Ahead Mini Crustless Quiche

I'm not really sure how highly successful people do it.  I feel like I am not that accomplished and yet I am struggling to keep my head above water in just trying to maintain the daily stuff.  Throw in the chaos of this Christmas season (didn't I say I was going to slow down and be more intentional?), some serious technology setbacks for me, some personal challenges and the fact that I (unlike Martha) just can't make it on four hours of sleep and it's leaving me feeling like one hot mess.

I suppose these are the times when we take solace in the minor victories.  For example, I've actually had some foresight enough to do a lot of preparations for a Christmas brunch we're hosting ahead of time.  I would definitely consider these mini crustless quiches a victory.  They can be made early and then batches can be frozen to pull out at a moment's notice.  Sort of like having your very own box of Nancy's (I believe that's the lady famous for her mini quiches) at the ready, except even better because you can customize your very own little quiches (No, offense, Nancy).

These will be making an appearance at Christmas brunch later this week, but I do believe they will not be reserved for special occasions alone.  I can't wait to try some more combinations.

Mini Crustless Quiches

makes 48 pieces; adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine
Quiche Batter:
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/4 cup whole milk
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 cup half and half
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan (or other hard cheese)

Asparagus and Bell Pepper Filling:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 cup red, yellow or orange bell pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
(feel free to substitute other vegetables or meat--cooked chopped broccoli, diced tomatoes, chopped mushrooms, diced onion, fresh chopped spinach, finely diced ham or crumbled sausage or bacon...)

Heat oven to 450°F.
Prepare Batter: Put the cornstarch in a medium bowl. Whisking steadily, slowly pour in 1/2 cup of the milk, mixing until quite smooth. Whisk in the whole eggs and egg yolks, mixing again until smooth, then gradually whisk in the rest of the milk, the cream, salt, and nutmeg. Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, for up to one day. If using the next day, be sure to re-whisk.
Prepare Filling Mixture: In a nonstick pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add asparagus and bell peppers (or other vegetables of your choosing) and stir until just softened, about 3-4 minutes.  Stir in garlic and stir just until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Oil mini muffin tins well. Put a pinch grated cheese into each muffin cup and 1-2 teaspoons of filling mixture. Pour 1 tablespoon of the batter into each muffin cup.
Bake until the quiches puff and start to turn golden, 15-18 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes and then carefully run a paring knife around the rim of each muffin cup. Carefully lift each quiche out of its cup.
Mini quiches freeze very well. Let cool, then freeze in a single layer in a covered container. Reheat on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven for about 5-10 minutes.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pasta with Pan-Roasted Vegetables

In the midst of the overindulgence of the season (I'm thinking of you, eggnog in the fridge and sugar cookies on the counter!), it's great to have some quick, healthy meals up your sleeve.  This one totally fits the bill.   

Hearty vegetables and bright balsamic vinegar are tossed with tender pasta, it went from concept to table in under 30 minutes.  I topped ours with crumbles of goat cheese for some extra tangy richness, but shredded Parmesan would be great too.

It comes together easily so there's more time for cookie decorating.  
Pasta with Pan-Roasted Vegetables
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 large portobello mushroom caps, halved and cut into 1/2" slices
2 red or yellow bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 red onion, chopped
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound shaped pasta (suggested: penne, campanelle or fusille--can use whole wheat as well)
1 teaspoon dried basil (or 3 cubes frozen pureed basil--Dorot brand suggested) or 1 cup chopped fresh basil
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
3 cups fresh spinach leaves
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled or 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)

1.  Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a large pot.  Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Add mushrooms, peppers, onion, 3 tablespoons vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to skillet, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and browned around edges, 10-12 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2.  While vegetables are cooking, add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente.  Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, drain pasta, and return to pot.  Add vegetables, remaining oil, and remaining vinegar to pot with pasta and toss to combine, adding reserved pasta water as need.  Stir in tomatoes, basil and spinach and season with salt and pepper.  Serve individual portions and top with crumbled goat cheese or shredded Parmesan.

Recipe adapted from America's Test Kitchen: The Best Simple Recipes

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Best Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I came to terms with the idea that I just couldn't make a good chocolate chip cookie.  Spread too thin, too greasy, too thick, too crispy, every single batch turned out just wrong.  

Until now. 

I took a cue from my friend who says when she wants to try a recipe she Googles "Best ..."  I always go for a chewy cookie so I searched for "Best and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie."  Using the term "best" can sometimes get you into trouble.  It sets the expectation pretty high.  But I think this one can live up to it.  This recipe has nearly perfect reviews on and it even turned out for me (bad track record and all), so it must be good.  Even my Brother-in-Law who has spent years perfecting his own chocolate chip cookie recipe said they were "pretty good."  Count that as a winner, folks!      

These are a cookie even Santa would approve of. 

  • Best Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate chips)
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended. Stir in the oats and chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets. 
  4. Bake for 10-12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Recipe very slightly adapted from

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Easy Spinach Artichoke Stuffed Mushrooms

Whew.  It's been a rough couple of weeks.  Amidst the craziness that always is the weeks leading up to Christmas, I've been feeling especially challenged in most areas of my life lately.  It sort of culminated in my dear little laptop crashing and dying.  Thankfully, I'd seen it start to act a little oddly and we were able to back it up in time.  Also, thankfully, my very generous in-laws have allowed me the use of a spare business computer but it has been a slow process to get back online and in the swing of things.  

I'm still feeling a bit behind, and guessing that others may feel a bit harried these days, I thought I would share a quick appetizer that's perfect for Holiday entertaining

1 8 oz. package Baby Portabella Mushrooms (or white button mushrooms are fine too)
1 10 oz. packaged Spinach Artichoke dip (look in the refrigerated deli section of the grocery store or Costco carries a good--larger size--one)
a couple tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs (or crushed cracker crumbs)
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Remove stems from mushrooms.  Wash and pat dry.  Brush mushrooms with olive oil and place in a single layer, stem side up, on a baking sheet.  Bake for 5 minutes or until mushrooms are softened.  Remove from oven.  Place 1-2 teaspoons of dip into each mushroom cap.  Repeat with remaining caps.  Stir together breadcrumbs, butter and parsley.  Sprinkle crumb mixture onto each mushroom and return to oven.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until filling is bubbly and crumb topping is browned.  

You can also put together your own Spinach Artichoke dip for very little extra effort.  
4 oz. cream cheese, softened (reduced fat is fine)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (reduced fat is fine)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 can (14 oz.) artichoke hearts in water, rinsed drained and chopped 
1 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Stir together cream cheese and mayonnaise until smooth.  Mix in Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, artichoke hearts, spinach, salt and garlic.    

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Holday Kale Salad

I'm a little sorry I didn't think to share this earlier.  You see, I think I have come up with a new Thanksgiving tradition that includes this salad.  I had planned to include it in my family's Thanksgiving dinner menu, but as I started simplifying the list of dishes I was going to prepare (there's only so much that can fit on a plate and salad takes up valuable stuffing real estate), I decided to prepare this salad (along with Butternut Squash Soup) to have available for people to help themselves to for an early lunch.  The combination was healthy, yet substantial enough to tide over until the main event. 

This salad is actually a version of one of my favorites, Crunchy Kale Salad, but for a more festive and upscale touch, gorgeous, red (and seasonal) pomegranate is substituted for the dried cranberries and golden raisins.  Set against the deep green of the kale, the pomegranate seeds (or "arils," as they officially known) look like little crimson jewels and the combination really does look like "Christmas in a bowl" (and because of the cheese-factor, it pains me to use that "season in a bowl" comment, but I must).   Which, leads me to believe that it's definitely not too late to share this recipe.  I know I'll be making it plenty of more times this holiday season. 

Holiday Kale Salad
1 bunch kale, washed, stems removed and torn into bite sized pieces *see note
kosher salt, about 1/2-1 teaspoon
1 cup pomegranate seeds **see note
1/2 cup walnut pieces or pine nuts, toasted
juice of 1 lemon, about 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

In the bottom of a large serving bowl, whisk together lemon juice and olive oil.  Throw kale pieces in bowl on top of dressing.  Sprinkle kale with salt and use hands to massage kale a bit to get it to start softening up.  Toss kale so that it's coated in the dressing.  Sprinkle pomegranate seeds and walnut pieces over top, season with freshly ground black pepper and additional salt, to taste.

*Note: ***Pictured above, the salad is made with baby kale leaves (what a treat to find a bag at Costco!) which were a great convenience (pre-washed! no woody stems!).  I have also seen bagged, chopped kale in the bagged salad section which could certainly substituted.  Usually, I go for the economical bunch of kale and just do the dirty work.  

**An easy way to remove the seeds from the pomegranate is to score the outside of the fruit and then break it open submerged in a big bowl of water (also helps keep your kitchen from looking like a crime scene, since that red juice can get EVERYWHERE!).  Continue to break apart the pomegranate and loosening the seeds under water.  The red juicy seeds will sink to the bottom and the white membrane will float to the top at which point, you can pour off and leave the seeds at the bottom. 

*** Finally, a couple more advantages to this kale salad is that it can both be prepared up to a couple hours ahead of time (unlike most salads which wilt into in-edibility upon contact with dressing) and the leftovers are still good to eat the next day.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Polenta Pie

Red and green and white, this is a dish in holiday colors.  And, since we've now entered the month of December and with the timely arrival of a snowstorm today, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around these parts.  Thus, my mind is turning toward what a flurry of activity this month becomes. 

Must. Slow. Down. And. Be. More. Intentional.   

I'm not going to say that this Italian style comfort food is going to solve all your challenges this month, but it is certainly a great one to keep in your back pocket--rounds of precooked, packaged polenta layered with garlicky sauteed spinach and creamy goat cheese then topped with zesty tomato sauce and final crunch of pine nuts.  All the ingredients can be kept on hand to pull out as an elegant dish for some impromptu entertaining or for a quick and easy meal on a night in between the Open Houses, Caroling, Sledding, Shopping, Decorating etc. 

And, can I just share that today I was struck anew at the awe and wonder of Christmas?  Emmanuel, God with us.  Wow. Wow. Wow.  I pray I can pause and be more reflective on that this holiday season... 

Polenta Pie
olive oil, several tablespoons
2 tubes packaged precooked polenta
1 6 ounce bag fresh spinach leaves
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 4-ounce log goat cheese
1 large jar favorite spaghetti sauce 
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
fresh basil leaves for garnish (totally optional since fresh basil is a bit more scarce in the winter)

Preheat oven to 350.  In a large skillet, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Slice polenta into rounds and brown in the olive oil, a couple minutes on each side, doing it in batches if necessary.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Scrape out pan and heat an additional tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat.  Saute onion and garlic, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, a few minutes. 
Add spinach and saute until wilted and liquid is evaporated, 2-3 minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Grease a 2 quart baking dish, and layer half the polenta rounds in bottom of dish.  Spread sauteed spinach in an even layer on top of polenta.  Crumble 2/3 of goat cheese and sprinkle evenly over spinach layer.  Top with remaining polenta rounds and pour spaghetti sauce over top layer of polenta.  Sprinkle remaining goat cheese crumbles and pine nuts evenly over the top and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbling.  Garnish with fresh basil leaves to "up" the red, green and white factor, if desired.   

The original recipe author suggests serving with a tossed green salad and bottle of Chianti. : )

Slightly adapted from Mary at Lakewinds Grocery Store