July 31, 2010

... Paradise Martini

When Mom and I decided to have 'Girls Night' the first obvious thing to do was select a drink recipe.  Enter: Paradise Martinis.  Vodka, yes please.  Pomegranate flavored vodka?  Most definitely.  Fruit juice, too?  Sold!

Three simple ingredients, a cocktail shaker, and a couple of glasses and you're in for a perfect night.


Paradise Martini

1 1/2 ounces Smirnoff Pomegranate flavored Vodka
2 ounces pineapple juice
1 splash cranberry juice
1 pineapple wedge (optional)

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker.  Add ice and shake until well mixed.  Strain into a martini glass and garnish with the pineapple wedge and / or a cherry.

Taylor's Notes:

Make many.  Enjoy!

... Grilled Chicken and Spinach Quesadillas

Dad went on an overnight fishing trip, so Mom and I declared 'Girls Night'!  We whipped up a couple of tasty martinis and fired up the griddle for a no-fuss Mexican-ish dinner.  We both love cooking, but after a long day of work for both of us, we wanted something easy and quick.  This recipe did the trick!

While I was shredding the chicken, Mom mixed up some delicious guacamole.  Grab an avocado, toss in some cilantro, a little fresh salsa - which is quicker and easier that cutting up tomatoes, onions, etc, but you can certainly do that instead and it's very good! - maybe throw in a little garlic salt and you're good to go.

In less than half an hour, from start to finish, you have a great meal perfect for girl talk (but I bet the boys would love it, too!).

Grilled Chicken and Spinach Quesadillas
serves 4

1 - 2 1/2 pound rotisserie chicken, meat shredded
4 cups baby spinach (about 3 ounces)
1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese (6 ounces)
4 large flour tortillas
1 avocado, diced
1/2 cup store-bought fresh salsa
1/4 cup sour cream

Heat grill to medium.  In a large bowl, combine the chicken, spinach, and cheese.  Dividing evenly, place the mixture on half of each tortilla.  Fold the other half over to cover.

Grill the quesadillas until the cheese has melted and the tortillas are crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side.  Serve with the avocado, salsa, and sour cream.

Taylor's Notes:
Instead of the grill, we fired up the griddle.  It was much easier clean up and we didn't have to go down to the patio for to use the grill.  Hey, it was hot and we had better things to do like drink martinis and watch a movie!  The griddle worked just as well, but we didn't get those great grill lines like we probably would have with the grill.  

We added more cheese than the recipe called for because the quesadillas weren't really sticking together.  I think if you layer the ingredients, so that there's cheese next to the tortilla as well as mixed in with the chicken and spinach, it may turn out better.  And, hey, who doesn't love more cheese?!

Mom and I both thought this was a pretty tasty recipe, but would probably add to the ingredients in the quesadilla next time.  Maybe some mushrooms?  Onions?  Fresh minced garlic?  There's a wide range of things you could toss in to add more flavor and make it your own.  All in all, though, it was a perfect girls-only-martini-drinking-movie-watching dinner.  


July 27, 2010

... Lemony Orzo-Veggie Salad with Chicken

I feel like I've started out nearly every post lately with 'this is such a great recipe for summer...', but, hey, shoot me.  It's summer!  This one was so easy to whip up and has great texture with the crunchy fresh veggies, smooth orzo pasta, and flavorful lemon dressing.  And you know how big of a fan I am of rotisserie chicken - hello time saver!

This was terrific as a weeknight dinner.  I think it literally took me 20 minutes to put together.  It'd be great to take to a picnic, or a get together, too, as it can definitely be made ahead of time and I'm sure the flavors just get better the longer they've had time to blend.  So, before we can't say 'it's summer!' any more, be sure to take a few minutes to give this recipe a shot.

Lemony Orzo-Veggie Salad with Chicken
serves 4

3/4 cup uncooked orzo
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon honey
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup shredded, skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast
1/2 cup diced English cucumber
1/2 cup prechopped red bell pepper
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese

Cook orzo according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.  Drain and rinse with cold water; drain and place in a large bowl.

While orzo cooks, combine lemon rind and next 6 ingredients (through black pepper), stirring well with a whisk.  Drizzle juice mixture over orzo; toss to coat.  Add chicken and next 4 ingredients (through dill); toss gently to combine.  Sprinkle with cheese.

Taylor's Notes:
Ok, first off, find a colander with teeny little holes.  If you don't, all of your orzo will fall through the colander into the sink.  Not good, my friends, not good.  If you don't have a teeny-holed colander, you can drain the pasta with the lid to the pot - just be careful not to burn yourself with the steam - or let the orzo fall through.  It's not rocket science, but it is a little tricky.

Secondly, do you know the brand Alouette?  If not, you should check it out.  They have several great flavors of creamy spreads that are the consistency of cream cheese with great herbs.  What I just discovered, though, is that they also have cheese crumbles.  As in, goat cheese crumbles.  And they're delicious and easy and you should definitely give them a shot when you make this recipe.

And, lastly... enjoy!

July 25, 2010

... Shrimp Salad Pitas

I stumbled across this recipe last month and thought it looked so fresh and summery that I just had to give it a try.  Granted, it took me about a month to get around to actually making it, but hey, better late than never!

With it's fresh shrimp, crunchy veggies, and lite dressing, I knew it'd be perfect on a hot summer day... or night, as the case may be.  Definitely give this one a shot, but beware, they're messy to eat!  It might be best to eat it as a salad with a side of pita or crackers.  Regardless of which way you choose, you'll want to add this to your line-up.

Shrimp Salad Pitas
serves 4

1/2 small red onion, chopped
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and halved crosswise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup 2% greek yogurt
1 medium carrot, coarsely grated
1 cucumber, halved lenthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 lemon
4 whole-wheat pitas
8 bibb lettuce leaves

Preheat the broiler.  Soak the chopped onion in a bowl of cold water while you prepare the shrimp.

Toss the shrimp with the olive oil, paprika, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste on a rimmed baking sheet.  Spread in an even layer and broil until the shrimp are opaque, about 4 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and let cool.  Wash and dry the baking sheet.

Drain the onion and add to the shrimp along with the yogurt, carrot, cucumber, dill, and salt and pepper to taste. Grate in 1 teaspoon lemon zest and squeeze in about half of the lemon juice.

Lay the pitas on the baking sheet and toast under the broiler.  Cut the pitas in half and fill with the lettuce and shrimp salad.

Taylor's Notes:
Ok, I'm not sure how long it takes to preheat a broiler.  Mine doesn't 'ding' at me like it does when I'm preheating the oven.  I think I had it on for maybe 10 minutes before I put the shrimp in.  My shrimp took about 5 1/2 minutes to cook, but I bet it would have been quicker if I would have placed the rack closer to the broiler.  Oh well... tomato tomahto.  The most important thing is that your shrimp are cooked through and are nice and pink... and not because of the paprika.  That said, I think the shrimp might be better grilled than broiled.  There's always next time.

I halved this recipe and it made enough for me to have one serving (two pita halves) and leftovers for tomorrow's lunch, so the recipe is true to size.  Don't you hate it when a recipe tells you it's 4 servings when in reality it's 2 or 8?!?  It happens people.  Trust me.

Since I had baby carrots on hand, I just decided to 'matchstick' them instead of buying a normal size carrot and grating it like the recipe calls for.  The dollar that I saved wasn't worth it.  Those baby carrots are hard cut... unless you don't mind losing a bit of your finger.  Don't worry, I didn't.  But there were a few close calls!

Other than those little tidbits, and the fact that I just stuck the pita right on the cooking rack - no time for cleaning mid-prep! - I followed the recipe and was pleased with the results... a fresh little salad/sandwich for dinner.


... Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Here's another oldie-but-a-goodie, and definitely a go-to of mine.  With all the fresh veggies in this salsa, it'll become one of yours too.

It's clearly delicious with tortilla chips, but try it as a side, in a salad, or on top of grilled chicken, too.  You'll be amazed at how versatile this recipe is!

1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can shoepeg corn, drained and rinsed
2 large tomatoes
1 large avocado, peeled and chopped
1 purple onion, chopped
4 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Mix all ingredients together and serve with chips.

Taylor's Notes:
When I can't find shoepeg corn, I just use whole kernel corn instead.  This time, I doubled the recipe, so I used one can of yellow corn and one can of white.  For some extra flavor, try adding garlic.  My red wine vinegar is infused with garlic, so I typically just use that, but minced fresh garlic would be very tasty as well.

Other than that, just follow the recipe and you'll be well on your way to enjoying some delicious salsa in no time!


July 5, 2010

... Southmoreland Monster Cookies

My good friend and fellow blogger, Lexie, shared this recipe with me a year or two ago and they're officially my go-to monster cookie.  Peanut butter, oatmeal, and chocolate chips... yes, yes, and yes!

Once made, these cookies are huge (they weren't joking around when they named them!) and they're oh-so-good.  They're so decadent that you'd think they're bad for you, but oatmeal is healthy... right??  I mean, really, they're practically perfect for breakfast!  :)

I believe Lexie originally got this recipe when she stayed at the Southmoreland Bed & Breakfast right here in Kansas City.  It looks lovely, so if you ever need a place to stay when visiting KC or if you live here and just need a little getaway, you should check it out!

Southmoreland Monster Cookies
makes 2 dozen

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups brown sugar, not packed
3 eggs
2 cups peanut butter
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream butter and sugars.  Add eggs and mix until smooth.  Blend in peanut butter, corn syrup, and vanilla.  Add baking soda and salt.  Mix until combined.  Stir in oats and chocolate chips.

Pack dough in a 1/4 cup measuring cup and drop onto a cookie sheet.  Press dough into a 3 1/2" circle.

Bake for 12 - 15 minutes or until edges are set.

Taylor's Notes:
These cookies are really easy and pretty quick to whip up.  They're also gluten-free so if you have a friend who has an allergy to gluten, they'll love you so much if you make these for them.  And isn't that what baking is all about?  Making people happy?  It is for me!


July 4, 2010

... Strawberry Pie

Ahhhh, Summer.  One of the best things about it is all the fresh fruit and, after seeing the bright red strawberries, I'm always reminded of one great recipe - Strawberry Pie.

Arguably one of the easiest pies to make, you'll never need much of a push to whip it up.    

This time around, I decided it would be the perfect addition to our Fourth of July celebration.  It's cool and refreshing and after you top it off with fresh whipped cream, you can sit back and enjoy the great perks of Summer.

Strawberry Pie

1 cup 7-Up
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup sugar
1 small package strawberry Jello
1 pie crust

Combine first three ingredients, cook to boil, remove from fire and add the Jello.  Cool, pour over baked pie shell filled with fresh strawberries.  Put in refrigerator until set.  Serve with whipped cream.

Taylor's Notes:
This is another great recipe from my Grandma Norma.  That's really all I should have to say, but because most of you don't know her , I'll continue.  Strawberry Pie has been around for as long as I can remember and it's one of my favorite pies - which is saying a lot because I.Love.Pie.  All pie.  Seriously. 

Now, my grandma would make her own pie crust.  I haven't quite mastered that skill from her yet - Grandma, lessons needed!! - so I use Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust.  Grandma would say that it's just as good, if not better, than hers, but we all know that's not true.  However, it is pretty darn good.  So, whatever pie crust you choose to use, bake it according to its directions and you're good to go.  After it's baked and cooled, fill her up with loads of fresh strawberries (cut them in half if they're large so they'll be easier to eat) and then carefully pour on the Jello mixture.

Pop that pie in the refrigerator to set the Jello and you'll have a delicious, refreshing summer pie in no time.  And you'll thank my Grandma... again.


... Watermelon with Rum and Mint

Watermelon?  Ok!  Rum?  Yes, Please!  Mint?  Love!  Combining all three?  Don't mind if I do!

This is a great recipe if you're headed to the lake, a summer bbq, a pool party... really any occasion people might enjoy watermelon soaked in rum and mixed with mint.  Which, now that I think about it, could be just about anywhere!  

Mint is one of my favorite herbs, especially during Spring and Summer.  Fresh herbs make everything so much, well, fresher and add a great flavor that you just can't get all year long.  For this recipe, sliver the mint leaves before you add it to the watermelon and the pretty green ribbons will add a beautiful contrast to the bright red watermelon.

First, pull the mint leaves from the stems.  Next, stack several mint leaves - maybe 8 to 10 - together.  After that, roll the stacked mint leaves into a little mint cigar.  Then cut the mint on a diagonal in very thin slices to create ribbons.

Add the fresh mint to the juicy watermelon and you'll be hoping you have lake trips, bbq's and pool parties all summer long.

(apologies for the lack of a final picture... I got too excited to eat after I mixed it all together!)

Watermelon with Rum and Mint
serves 6

1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest plus 2 tablespoons juice (from 1 lime)
4 tablespoons light-brown sugar
4 tablespoons light rum, or more to taste (1 small bottle)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium seedless watermelon, chilled
3/4 cup slivered fresh mint

In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine lime juice, lime zest, brown sugar, rum, and salt.  Shake well to combine.

Using a melon baller, scoop melon into balls, or cut melon into bite-size chunks.  Fill a gallon-size freezer bag 1/2 to 3/4 full with melon.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, pour rum mixture into the freezer bag with the melon; add slivered mint leaves.  Seal bag and shake gently to combine.

Taylor's Notes:
This recipe is really self-explanatory.  No tips, no tricks and none left after it's been put out on the table!  


... Grilled Pork with Arugula and Tomato Salad

I've had this recipe on my radar for a couple weeks now and was really waiting for a time when I'd have more than just me to cook for.  I mean, what girl needs to grill up an entire pork tenderloin for herself??  As it turns out, on Friday night, I decided I was that girl.

And I'm sure glad I did.  The pork - marinated in Mediterranean Herb and Olive Oil - was tender and juicy and was a perfect pair for the spicy arugula and tomato salad with feta cheese.  

Word to the wise: don't let cooking for one stop you.  Just realize that you'll have leftovers that will allow you to enjoy that great meal again.

Grilled Pork with Arugula and Tomato Salad
serves 4

1 1/4 pounds lean pork tenderloin, thinly sliced into 8 pieces
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, divided (about 2 small lemons)
1 tablespoon minced garlic, or 2 small chopped garlic cloves
3/4 teaspoon table salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground, divided
1 spray cooking spray
8 cups arugula
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved, red and yellow varieties if possible
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Place pork between 2 sheets of waxed paper and flatten by rolling over with a rolling pin a few times; place pork in a releasable zip-lock plastic bag (or glass container).

Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper to bag (or container); seal bag and shake to mix and coat (or stir and cover).  Let marinate for at least 10 minutes but no more than 1 hour.

Off heat, coat a grill rack or stove top grill pan with cooking spray; preheat to medium-high heat.  Grill pork until cooked through, flipping once, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine arugula, tomatoes, remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, vinegar, oil and remaining 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper; toss to combine.  Serve pork with salad on top.  Yields 2 pieces of pork and about 2 1/4 cups of salad per serving.

Taylor's Notes:
Wow.  I must have been in a completely different world when I was cooking tonight.  I think I managed to get maybe two-thirds of the ingredients into the meal and didn't exactly follow the recipe to a tee.  Guess that's the fun of cooking, right?!

And you know what else is fun?  My meal still came out pretty darn tasty if I do say so myself.  Here's how it went... I put the whole pork tenderloin on the grill and cooked it according to the directions on the package.  I bought a marinated tenderloin - Mediterranean Herb and Olive Oil - yum!  For the salad, I tossed baby spinach and baby arugula with a few halved cherry tomatoes, and some crumbled feta cheese.  Sprinkle on a few pinches of kosher salt, a few grinds of fresh black pepper and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  

So, maybe I'm getting the hang of this cooking thing after all!