Hungry Jack Casserole

It's finally here! The recipe I've cooked the most, know now by heart, and is enjoyed by all... is finally making it to the blog. This has been my favorite dish ever since I can remember (thanks Mom!) so it has definitely earned the "family recipe" label. This is actually one of the first recipes I cooked for Patrick and it turns out the way to his heart was with this recipe!

1 lb ground beef (make it healthier: lean beef)
1 - 16 oz can pork and beans (make it healthier: vegetarian beans)
3/4 cup barbeque sauce (make it healthier: light bbq sauce)
1 small onion, chopped
2 tbs brown sugar
1 can biscuits
1 cup shredded cheese (make it healthier: 2% milk cheese)

Preheat oven to 375F. Saute onions and brown beef, drain. In separate bowl mix beans, bbq sauce, brown sugar, and some cheese. Add drained beef and onions. Place into a 2-qt casserole dish and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Cook in oven for 15 minutes (or until bubbly). Then remove and add biscuits. Cook until biscuits are golden unless you're Patrick and want them pale.

top left: Bean mixture waiting for the beef and onions! 
top right: In the casserole dish with sprinkled cheese before the oven. 
bottom left: Half-way through baking, just added the biscuits. 
bottom right: All done! Nice & golden!

Angel Food Cake with Mom's Butter Brickle Glaze

Angel food cake was one of my dad's favorite desserts, along with this glaze my mom invented by accident. We just use a box recipe for the cake, with the only trick being to own an angel food cake pan. The glaze is quite a challenge due to the imprecise recipe that I haven't taken the time to refine. This is what's on mom's recipe card:

Butter Brickle Glaze  (6/18/85)

Melt 1/4 cup butter/margarine on high until it browns
Add brown sugar (about 1/4 cup?)
Stir over heat (should bubble)
Add 1 tsp vanilla (sizzles)
Cool slightly (?)
Add about 1 cup powdered sugar (brown sugar will form lumps)
Add several tsp milk until of glaze consistency
Add powdered sugar or additional milk as necessary
Drizzle over angel food cake

It's that first step that is supposed to give the glaze its unique flavor, I think. From this most recent attempt, I would guess that heating the butter on high is not a wise choice. For this cake, I had to toss the first batch of glaze because the butter was burnt too badly, and I don't think it browned at all on the second one. Whitney vetoed my wish to try one more time, so that's what we ended up using. It was still quite good, but I think it could have been better. After consulting some other recipes that use burnt butter, I think step 1 should be to stir the butter constantly over medium heat until it reaches an amber color and has a nice caramel aroma.

This cake is delicious when served with strawberries, raspberries, or as we discovered later in the week, chocolate fondue!

Cooling the cake!
Attempt #1. Should have known it was done for by the second photo.

Attempt #2. Didn't get any browning, but at least it developed more of a glaze consistency instead of a charcoal mush. 

Served with fresh raspberries this time!

Chicken Cacciatore

I've had my eye on this Chicken Cacciatore recipe in my Better Homes & Garden New Cookbook. As you recall I cooked a chicken alfredo dinner back in October! Well I conveniently froze some of the extra chicken thighs and was secretly saving them for this!

Chicken Cacciatore
Makes: 6 servings
My notes in red italics!

2 1/2 - 3 lbs meaty chicken pieces (breast halves, thighs, and drumsticks)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes, undrained I used a 28 oz can of chunky tomatoes since I had this in the pantry. The sauce was a little extra tomatoe-y but Patrick and I liked it.
1 6-oz can tomato paste
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning, crushed
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp snipped fresh parsley
Hot cooked fettuccine or linguine (optional) We served with rotini and liked the small pasta.

1. Skin chicken. In a large skillet brown chicken on all sides in hot oil over medium heat about 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Remove chicken from skillet, reserving drippings in skillet; set chicken aside. My thighs were boneless and did not take this long!
Patrick chops the veggies while the chicken browns
2. Add mushrooms, onion, and garlic to skillet. Cook and stir about 5 minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Return chicken to skillet.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine undrained tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, sugar, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Pour over chicken in skillet. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 30 to 35 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink (170F for breasts; 180F for thighs and drumsticks), turning once during cooking. Sprinkle with parsley. If desired, serve over hot cooked pasta.
Once again Patrick and I had an easy time splitting things up! I worked at the stove and browned the chicken while he prepared the sauce. Then we let everything simmer! This was super yummy too. I was very impressed with how it turned out.
Patrick preparing the sauce
Simmering! yum!
Chicken cacciatore atop rotini sprinkled with parmesan cheese and served with a side salad of green lettuce, fresh green beans, sliced almonds, and more parmesan.

Rosemary & Lemon Salmon

Patrick and I eat salmon quite a bit. We eat it pretty regularly -- probably 1-2 times a month -- since it's such a great fish to eat with all of those healthy omega-3 fatty acids! I've blogged the Honey-Soy Broiled Salmon recipe before. It's Patrick favorite and I do think he would eat this recipe each time if I didn't want to try new ones! I made a version of rosemary and lemon salmon last year before I was blogging. I couldn't remember where it came from and couldn't find one exactly like I remembered it so I merged a couple different recipes together... here's what I ended up with!

Rosemary & Lemon Salmon
1 salmon fillet (I get one that's usually about 2/3 lb for the two of us)
1 lemon (Buy an extra lemon for the side salad, recipe follows!)
sprigs of rosemary
salt and pepper
white wine

--Place the fillet skin side down in a baking dish. Rub with salt and pepper. Place the rosemary sprigs and lemon slices on top of the fillet. The size of the fillet will dictate how many sprigs and lemon slices you need. Drizzle a little white wine over the lemon slices. Broil fish until cooked through, 6-10 minutes.
Before broiling
I served the salmon with coucous and a side spinach salad. The side spinach salad was topped with fresh raspberries, toasted walnuts, mascarpone, and a lemon vinaigrette. For the lemon vinaigrette: 1/4 cup evoo, 2 tbsp lemon, sugar, parsley, salt and pepper.
Salmon, couscous, and salad

How to have a pumpkin party!

As I mentioned with the past two blog posts I had a pumpkin party right before Halloween! The Quick Italian Beef & Vegetable Soup & Chocolate Chip and Mascarpone Cupcakes were a delicious beginning to a fun night of painting pumpkins with friends! The first two years of my pumpkin party adventures (2008 & 2009) featured pumpkin carving. The party commenced with pumpkin carving late afternoon with plenty of sunlight outside and then ended in the kitchen with all the yummy food. This year I was not able to plan the party in the afternoon and there would not be enough sunlight to spare for carving outside. Therefore the party moved inside and we painted pumpkins in the evening. I served soup and grilled cheese sandwiches before we painted pumpkins and then to reward everyone's hard work we had dessert afterwards. The creative blocks were still the same... maybe a bit more with painting this year but everything came together and everyone painted wonderful, Halloween pumpkins! I do believe fun was had by all... except our dining room table. But I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking!

I set up two tables in the kitchen for dining!
The dining room table was converted to the painting station! Each painter had a paper plate for their palette, a paper towel, and a cup at their disposal to create a wonderful masterpiece!
The dessert area! Pie & cupcakes for all... oh and can't forget a jack-o-lantern full of candy!
Beginning stages of painting.
Patrick creating!
Sterling's finished pumpkin! Loved the witch :-)
Then we thought we'd take a group photo... but the table could no longer bear the weight of pumpkins or people!
Will the pieces go back together??
Painted pumpkins! A successful party!

Chocolate Chip and Mascarpone Cupcakes

Can't have a party without cupcakes!!
Now I'm not a big baker... as you can see the few dessert items on here have been submitted by Patrick! I was having a little trouble deciding on dessert for the pumpkin party. I was pleasantly surprised when my roommate told me he would make a pumpkin pie for the occasion. So I thought cookies would be a nice complement to pie. As I browsed for cookie recipes I remembered a cupcake recipe from the Everyday Italian (Food Network tv show) with mascarpone  (and I conveniently had mascarpone in the fridge from the root veggie pasta recipe)! I love Giada from this show and when I first saw the cupcakes I wanted to make them for Patrick... they were after all chocolate! Click here for the video of Giada making the cupcakes.
Patrick and I were able to make the cupcakes the night before the party and I iced them the day of the party. I'm learning that recipes made with two people are much easier. Therefore tackling these "intermediate" cupcakes went just fine with four hands! The other reason we deemed this recipe do-able was because there weren't too many odd baking ingredients or steps (ie we didn't need an electric mixer).

  5 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  1 cup water
  1/3 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  2 1/4 cups sugar
  1 cup vegetable oil
  3 large eggs
  1 tbsp vanilla extract
  3 cups all-purpose flour
  1 tsp baking soda
  1 tsp fine sea salt
  1/2 tsp baking powder
  1 cup (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips (Giada recommends: Nestle morsels)
  1 cup (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
  2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the Cupcakes:
Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325F.
Combine the unsweetened chocolate and water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes. Whisk in the mascarpone cheese until the mixture is smooth.

Beat the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl for 30 seconds. Stir in the mascarpone mixture. Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and chocolate chips in a medium bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture. Stir until just blended.
Before combining wet ingredients and dry ingredients!

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin pans (with baking cups). Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out with no crumbs attached. Cool the cupcakes completely before dipping, about 1 hour.

We had extra batter leftover.
For the Ganache:
Place the chocolate chips in a small bowl. Combine the heavy cream and vanilla extract in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the small bubbles appear on the outside edge of the cream. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate chips. Using a fork, gently stir until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
My set up for ganaching (?) the cupcakes. Semisweet chocolate chips ready for the saucepan with heated cream and the cupcakes in the back ready for a dip!
Dip the tops of each cupcake in the ganache and transfer to a baking sheet. Place the dipped cupcakes in the refrigerator to set, abotu 15 to 20 minutes. Allow cupcakes to return to room temperature before serving.
Giada Note: For puffier cupcakes allow the batter to rest in the muffin pans for 20 minutes before baking. (We did not do this.)

Dipping the cupcakes. Patrick and I had a little trouble removing all the cupcakes from the baking pan so some of the tops didn't quite make it out of the ganache. Then into the fridge to set!

Quick Italian Beef & Vegetable Soup

This recipe is one my mom found in Southern Living from back in the day... well not too far back in the day. I remember when she first tried it (middle school, maybe?) and didn't think much of it back then but as I have grown and matured so has my taste palette! For the past two years I have served this soup at my pumpkin carving party! This year was no different. Even though we were painting pumpkins instead of carving them, I still planned the same menu. I like a little consistency. Each year I triple the recipe. I have about 10-12 friends over and the recipe serves 3-4. There's always a little extra but this soup freezes well. I also serve grilled cheese sandwiches with the soup!

Quick Italian Beef & Vegetable Soup
Serves 3-4

1 medium zucchini
1 - 14 oz can Italian-style stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 lb lean ground beef
1 c. sliced carrots
1 - 15 oz can Northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
2 - 14 oz can ready-to-serve beef broth
2 c. loosely packed torn fresh spinach

Part One: Cut zucchini in half lengthwise; cut each half crosswise in 1/4-inch thick slices. Set aside. Brown ground beef and garlic; drain. Stir in pepper, salt, broth, Italian-style stewed tomatoes, and sliced carrots; bring to a boil. 
Part One before boiling.
Part Two: Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Stir zucchini slices and beans into mixture; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, 4 to 5 minutes or until zucchini is crisp-tender. Remove from heat; stir in torn spinach.

For some reason Mom never put the spinach in so I don't either.

Part Two after the zucchini has just been added. Isn't it colorful -- a perfect fall soup!

Rigatoni with roasted root vegetables and mascarpone

This fall I've really been wanting to try winter squash. I had the day off and was watching the Today Show. The cooking section featured Sara Gore. She prepared two dishes with winter squash and root vegetables -- a pasta dish and a meat dish. The pasta dish looked amazing! Fortunately I found the recipe on the internet and have pasted it below. 

Off I went to the grocery store. Butternut squash, parsnips, leeks, and mascarpone were all on the list and all things I've never purchased / cooked with before! Butternut squash and leeks were the two that I was most familiar and finding them was no problem. Mascarpone was another story; basically a wild goose chase! Finally a deli employee had to fetch it out of a back refrigerator for me. I was a little scared to try so many things at once but I'm glad I did. Needless to say this recipe was a fun adventure. Unfortunately the camera was at Patrick's house so no pictures :-(

Butternut squash, about 2 lbs., peeled and diced
3-4 good-size parsnips, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
Olive oil for drizzling
5 slices applewood-smoked bacon or pancetta
1/2 small yellow onion, sliced thin
5 - 6 in. of leek, white part, sliced lengthwise, rinsed, sliced into half-moons
1 head of garlic, roasted
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
4 oz. mascarpone
1/4 cup Parmesan
1 lb. rigatoni
Chicken stock or pasta water for desired creaminess
Pumpkin seed oil or pepitas for garnish
     My notes in pink!
Step One:  Preheat oven to 400.
Prep vegetables: Dice all veg into same-size cubes, about 1 inch in size. Drizzle with good-quality olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper. Spread in single layer on sheet trays without overcrowding. Roast for 45 minutes, tossing once or twice while roasting.
To roast garlic: With a serrated knife, cut top of garlic off horizontally, season with olive oil, salt and pepper and seal tight in foil. Roast in oven for 45 minutes (same time as vegetables so done at same time).

Step Two: (This doesn't need to be done immediately once you start roasting the vegetables. However I went ahead and prepped the leaks. They have lots of dirt in the leaves and need to be washed carefully!) In a large saute pan, add about a tablespoon of olive oil and diced bacon (or pancetta) and render down the fat. Add onion and leek and saute until thoroughly cooked and caramelized.
In a food processor blend ricotta, mascarpone, Parmesan and roasted garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. This is yummy!!
If using fresh pasta, cook 2-3 minutes or until desired tenderness. If using box pasta, cook per instructions on box. I did follow the instructions and use rigatoni but I think any small-medium sized pasta would've been fine.
Toss hot pasta into large saute pan with cooked onion mixture. Over medium-high heat add cheese mixture and toss to coat. Add chicken stock or pasta water to achieve desired consistency. Add roasted vegetables. Toss and plate on serving platter. Top with pepitas or pumpkin seed oil. Omitted this last part. Also forgot to add chicken stock or pasta water. It may could've used a little bit but was fine without it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this dish. Patrick, though respecting trying new flavors and varieties, would probably not want to try this again. Silly Patrick!

Apple Strudel

The apple pie didn't quite use up all of our apples, so we decided to make some strudel. Even with my new baking skills, puff pastry from scratch seemed like a bigger challenge than I was up for, so I went the easy route with frozen puff pastry, using this recipe as a starting point. I did away with the raisins, added nutmeg, and opted for a braided danish look.

1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
About 5 apples (came out to almost 3 cups sliced)
Puff pastry (we used a full Pepperidge Farm 17.3 oz. package)

Heat oven to 375. Stir together dry ingredients. Using some flour on rolling pin and surface to keep from sticking, roll the thawed puff pastry sheets thin. Cut slits in pastry as shown. Peel and slice apples (drip with lemon to keep from browning), then turn into dry ingredients. Place apple mixture along center of pastry, then fold strips over to form braid design. Whisk egg and spread over dough. Dust with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 35 minutes until golden brown.

Rolling some dough

Adding some filling

Folding some slits

The tasty result! Poor thing bled out a little bit in the corner.

Spinach Manicotti

Working during the day can put a real strain on fixing dinner. I am fortunate enough that Patrick (I think) enjoys deciding on the recipe and then picking up the ingredients. Patrick and I first made this dinner last Valentine's Day so it was special to revisit this recipe! Unfortunately I didn't get around to blogging it last winter. This recipe is from my Better Homes & Garden Cookbook.

Spinach Manicotti -- a fun & yummy recipe

8 dried manicotti shells
1/4 cup sliced green onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups milk
3 ounces Swiss cheese
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 egg, beaten
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel (Patrick forgot the lemon this time)

1. Cook manicotti according to package directions; drain. Rinse pasta with cold water; drain. Cool pasta in a single layer on greased foil.

2. Meanwhile, for sauce, in a medium saucepan cook green onion and garlic in hot butter over medium heat until tender. Stir in flour. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Add Swiss cheese and broth, stirring until cheese melts. If you've got extra hands in the kitchen it's easy to split up steps 2 and 3. I prepped step 2 while Patrick prepped 3! Then we merged to stuff the shells.

Green onion and garlic in hot butter.
After adding the milk and flour. Once the cheese and broth is added it looks about the same so I didn't include another photo!
3. For filling, in a medium bowl stir together egg, spinach, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, and lemon peel. Use a small spoon to fill manicotti shells with spinach mixture. Arrange filled shells in a 2-quart rectangular baking dish. Pour sauce over filled shells.
Patrick has a very large collection of whisks. For filling begin by whisking egg.

Thaw / defrost spinach and then squeeze out all the excess moisture! Add to egg and ricotta cheese.

Now stuff!
Pour cheese sauce over the manicotti and then bake!

4. Bake, covered, in a 350F oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until heated through. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. As I'm blogging now I realized Patrick and I overlooked the "covered" part so we didn't do this and it turned out fine.