Monday, July 27, 2015

Lovely Lemon Bars

This is another recipe from Joanne Fluke, the cozy mystery author.  I just love the Hannah Swensen series, they're the comfort food of the literary world for me!  These lemon bars are from the first book in the series, The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.  I made them when a friend came to visit a couple of months ago.  We loved them so much that they all got devoured before I had a chance to take a picture.  Okay, I take that back- there are some pictures of my puppy licking lemon bar off my friend's baby's hand, but that's it!  In spite of being crazy about them, for some reason this was the first time I made lemon bars, but we liked this recipe so much that I don't see myself trying any others!

Lovely Lemon Bars

2 C flour
1/2 C powdered sugar
2 sticks butter, cold
4 eggs
2 C sugar
1/2 C lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest (optional)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp flour

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour and powdered sugar, then cut in the cold butter with your fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal.  Dump the mixture into the greased baking dish and press it down evenly with your hands.  Bake in preheated oven until golden around the edges, about 15-20 minutes.

While the crust cooks, prepare the filling.  Whisk together the sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest, then whisk in the baking powder, salt, and flour until smooth.

When the crust has finished cooking, immediately pour the filling over the top and return the baking dish to the oven.  Bake until golden on top, about 20-30 minutes.  Let cool before cutting into bars and serving.

Yield:  About 12 bars

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cheesy Ranch Potatoes

I stumbled upon this recipe on Natasha's Kitchen recently and have made it twice in the past month.  It's so simple and very, very tasty!  The first time, I used red potatoes with the skin on, bottled ranch dressing, and green onions, and this time I used peeled russet potatoes, homemade ranch dressing (actually homemade ranch dressing mix plus mayo and milk), and bacon.  Both were great!

This is very much a "do what you want" recipe.  You can make just a small amount of potatoes, or a whole lot, and pretty much any kind of potato will do.  You also don't have to measure anything, just use your own judgment!

Cheesy Ranch Potatoes

ranch dressing
garlic salt
grated cheddar cheese
cooked, crumbled bacon (optional)
thinly sliced green onion or chives (optional)

Wash and peel the potatoes if desired, then cut them into 1 1/2 inch chunks.  Boil in salted water until they can be pierced with a fork, then drain thoroughly.  Carefully fold in desired amount of ranch dressing, you want them to be coated but not swimming in it.  Spoon evenly into a greased baking dish, season to taste with garlic salt, then bake until the potatoes start to turn golden in places on top, about 20-25 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with desired amount of grated cheese, plus the bacon if you're using it.  Return to oven for 5 minutes.  Remove and sprinkle with the green onions or chives if you're using them, then let the potatoes for a few minutes before serving.  Leftovers reheat really well!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Secret Recipe Club: Arroz con Pollo

For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned the fabulous blog, Kitchen Trial and Error!  It's written by the lovely Kate, who lives in Rochester, NY with her family.  She's a busy lady but still cooks all kinds of great looking recipes.  I had a very difficult time choosing one this month and seriously had about 20 set aside to pick from.  Tempting recipes included Pumpkin Sheet Cake with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting, Tomato & Meatball Soup, Apple Chicken Chili, and Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken.  Her recipe for baked ziti looks fantastic as well, but it's basically the same as my recipe since it's from the same source!
The recipe I ended up going with was Arroz con Pollo.  I've always wanted to try this dish and for whatever reason, it's the one my mind kept migrating back to.  My minor changes were to use bacon grease instead of olive oil (I followed the recipe back to its source on another blog and it said to use bacon), my bell pepper was a different color, I used a full 4 C of chicken broth, and I only simmered the rice for 20 minutes since that's how long my rice usually takes to cook and I didn't want it to get mushy.  Next time I would wait to add the chicken back to the pan until I add the rice to prevent it from being overcooked, but that's the only change.
Small tinkerings aside, this was a good recipe.  My husband loved it and gave the chicken a 9 and the rice a 10, which surprised me.  He doesn't even like peas, but liked them here.  We actually made this together and it was a lot of fun.  We had an insane amount of rice leftover (no surprise since it uses 3 1/2 cups!), but I'm going to freeze the leftovers to serve with tacos and the like, which will be fun.  In the future, I will use another pound of chicken.

Arroz con Pollo

2 Tbsp bacon grease
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cleaned and cut in half
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz beer
4 C chicken broth
8 oz tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp cumin, plus more to sprinkle on chicken
3 1/2 C white rice
1/2 C frozen peas

In a dutch oven, melt bacon grease over medium high heat.  Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and cumin, then brown on both sides in bacon grease.  Remove to a plate.  Add onion and bell pepper to dutch oven and saute until they turn translucent, then add garlic and saute another minute or so until it turns golden.  Stir in beer, chicken broth, tomato sauce, bay leaf, oregano, and the 2 tsp cumin.  Simmer on low for 10 minutes, then stir in chicken pieces and rice.  Bring to a boil, cover the dutch oven, and reduce the heat to low.  Let cook without lifting the lid for 20 minutes, then remove the dutch oven from the heat and stir in the peas.  Replace the lid and let it sit for a minute so the peas can thaw.

Yield:  About 8 servings but with a LOT of rice

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Saturday, July 4, 2015


I have been making so many burgers this year!  This is unusual because I've never been known for my love of hamburgers, but it turns out I like them a lot better when I make them myself.  This is my newest burger adventure, I came upon the recipe on the Pioneer Woman blog a couple of weeks ago and immediately decided to make them for the 4th of July today, along with Cheesy Ranch Potatoes and watermelon.  I've never had a burger like this before because we don't have a Freddy's, Steak 'n Shake, Smashburger, Culver's, or any place like that around here, but the idea of smashing two plain meat patties very thin and melting cheese between them intrigued me.

I will definitely make these again because they turned out really well!  These are the most tender burgers I've made, I think because the meat is handled very little.  They have an awesome, browned crust as well, which makes them super yummy.  I plan to make these when my in-laws visit us next, and I only make our favorite recipes for them!

Quick Note:  I use Stacey's Hamburger Seasoning recipe from AllRecipes and leave out the paprika.  I made a quadruple batch and have it in a little shaker in my spice cabinet.  Also, I found the perfect method for smashing the burgers flat.  Based on all the reading I did online, it can be tricky to flatten the burgers, but my approach was great.  All I did was wrap a medium (about 6 inches in diameter), flat bottomed glass bowl in aluminum foil and then pressed down on it with both hands.  The meat did not stick at all to the foil and it was very easy to clean up.


1 lb ground beef
hamburger seasoning
sliced cheese
hamburger buns
condiments of choice

Preheat griddle or large nonstick skillet to 350/medium high.  Form the meat into 8 evenly sized balls and place on a plate.

When the griddle/skillet is hot, grease it by melting a burger sized circle of butter in 4 spots on the cooking surface.  Place a ball on each buttered spot, then immediately smush very flat (about 1/6 inch) and sprinkle generously with hamburger seasoning.

Let patties cook until nicely browned on the bottom, then carefully flip with a spatula or tongs.  Sprinkle the uncooked side with more hamburger seasoning, then continue to cook until the patties are cooked through.

Flip 2 of the patties over again, then top those two with a slice of cheese each and the remaining 2 patties.  It will look like you have two sandwiches with layers of meat, cheese, then meat again.  You can add another slice of cheese on top of each if you would like.  Cook until cheese is melted, then remove to the hamburger buns.

Repeat with remaining 4 balls of meat.

Yield: 4 double layer cheeseburgers.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Basil Orzo Salad

Most people understandably are under the impression that it's cold (or at least chilly) in Alaska all the time, but we can have pretty warm summers.  So far this summer, we've had a lot of days in the mid to upper 80s.  Night doesn't offer much relief since the sun doesn't actually really go down, and I don't know anyone around here with air conditioning in their home.  It's usually actually cooler outside than inside.  It's also so far been a very fiery summer, at the moment there are nearly 200 separate wildfires burning in Alaska and it's very smoky out.  As a result of all the heat and smoke, we've been wanting to eat a lot of cold foods, which means I've been making a lot of pasta salad.  
This is my slight twist on a recipe I found on the blog Mel's Kitchen Cafe.  It's one of those recipes that I saw, then made that night after a quick trip to the grocery store.  I served it as a side dish (along with fresh raspberries) for Peperoncini Beef Sandwiches, and it was a very good dinner.  It also keeps well in the refrigerator, as long as you keep the tomatoes and spinach separate!

Basil Orzo Salad
12 oz orzo
chicken broth
1/3 C olive oil
1/4 C white vinegar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp honey
1/4 C pesto, or enough to give it a bit of a basil flavor
2 C cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 C green onions, sliced thinly
1 C feta cheese
about 4 C baby spinach, torn into pieces
salt and pepper to taste
Bring chicken broth to a boil and add a little salt.  Stir in orzo and cook over medium-high heat until al dente, stirring occasionally.  Drain thoroughly, but do not rinse.  Stir in oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and pesto, then chill pasta.  Stir in cherry tomatoes, green onions, feta, spinach, and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve cold.  If you won't be eating all the pasta salad within a couple of hours, I suggest storing the sliced tomatoes and spinach separately and stirring it into the orzo before you serve it because the spinach will wilt and the tomatoes will get soft.

Yield:  About 10 side dish servings

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Grilled Corn & Tomato Salad

I have made this salad 4 times in the past month or so.  We love grilled corn on the cob, and so far every time I have grilled this summer, I've grilled corn for us to eat immediately as well as corn to use the next day in this salad.  It's nothing fancy, but very good!
Grilled Corn & Tomato Salad
2 cobs fresh corn
olive oil
salt and pepper
10 oz (by weight) cherry tomatoes, halved
3 Tbsp sliced green onions
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, plus more to taste
1 tsp dried basil
1/8 tsp garlic powder
salt to taste
Remove the corn husks and corn silk from cobs.  Rinse corn and pat dry.  Brush all over with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill on an outdoor grill over medium heat, rotating every couple of minutes and with grill cover shut in between, until there are grill marks all over the corn and it's cooked through, about 15 minutes.  Remove corn from grill and let it sit until cool enough to handle, or wrap it in foil and refrigerate over night.
When you're ready to make the salad, cut the corn off the cobs with a serrated knife.  Place in a medium mixing bowl with the halved tomatoes and green onions, then add the rest of the ingredients.  Toss until everything's well mixed, taste, and add a little more vinegar, salt, garlic powder, or basil if you think it's needed.
I always serve half of the salad immediately, then cover the rest and serve it the next day.  It's good both ways!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Triple Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Fudge Icing

I don't use cake mixes much.  Not because I dislike them per se, it's just that I don't bake cakes that often and when I do, I usually want to make it from scratch!  This particular recipes uses a cake mix as a base, and you add a bunch of other ingredients to it, then top it with peanut butter icing.  I've made it I think 3 times over the past 5 years.  It's really very good, the chocolate cake is dense (in a nice way!), very moist, and very chocolaty because of the added chocolate chips.  I love the mini chips.  They kind of melt into the cake, adding lots of extra flavor and gooey chocolate, and stay soft.  The cake recipe is from AllRecipes, my only change is to replace half the oil with applesauce.
The peanut butter icing is from the Southern Plate blog, I changed it to use all butter instead of a mix of butter and shortening.  The icing is perfect for this cake!  It's thick, fudgy, sweet, and firms up rather than staying spreadable like regular frosting.  The chocolate and peanut butter flavors work fantastically together and neither overpowers the other.  This cake is a great choice for a peanut butter-chocolate lover!

Triple Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Fudge Icing
Chocolate Cake:

1 box devil's food cake mix (use the biggest you can find, mine was 16 oz)
6 oz box instant chocolate pudding mix
1/2 C water
1/2 C vegetable oil
1/2 C applesauce
1 C sour cream
4 eggs
12 oz bag mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 baking dish. 
Mix together everything except chocolate chips until smooth, then stir in chocolate chips.  The batter will be thick.  Spread it in the prepared baking dish and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean (the chocolate chips will prevent it from being completely clean), about 45 minutes.
Allow cake to cool completely before making icing.

Peanut Butter Icing:
1 1/2 C sugar
4 Tbsp butter
7 Tbsp milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C peanut butter
Stir together sugar, butter, milk, and salt in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-high, stirring frequently, until it comes to a boil.  Set a timer for 2 minutes and let the mixture boil that entire time, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.  When the time is up, remove immediately from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and peanut butter until smooth.  Quickly spread the icing over the cooled cake, it will set up rapidly.