Thursday, June 25, 2009

Strawberry Banana Muffins

By far, my favorite muffin is the banana muffin. I'm not a big fan of bananas on their own, but but muffins and bananas are a perfect match. I found this recipe on Amber's Delectable Delights, and when I saw that it involved bananas and strawberries, which I love and are abundant and fresh here in Santa Barbara, I knew I would have to try them, even though I usually avoid baking. I really liked how easily these muffins came together and the flavors were great. I brought these up to my parents for Father's Day as well as the cake bites, and although my mom was making fun of them (she is the exact opposite of me and likes bananas plain and not in muffins), the kids enjoyed them and I think my dad will too. Very tasty. I followed the recipe exactly, so I won't repeat it.

Cake Balls for Father's Day!

I have been enamored with the Bakerella site for a while. I can't believe the creativity of this woman, especially with her cake balls, cupcake bites and cupcake pops. I don't pretend to be a baker, but this technique seemed to be something I could handle. Store bought cake mix & frosting plus candy coating from Michael's? I can do this! I stuck to the cake balls, since I had heard the pops could be a little tricky. I'm glad I did, since I had a few little kinks to work out and would have been bummed if I had started with the pops first (the balls allow a lot more room for error). I decided to make these for Father's Day, and since I had taken the child I mentor to a pottery painting shop, I had a vessel for delivery that was perfect (see below). I also made a couple boxes for the rest of my family, the kid I mentor, and the bike shop. These should be treated as controlled substances. They are that good, and they aren't exactly good for you, but I guess they are good for the soul! Already my mom and my aunt in Indiana have made them this week, so I guess I made an impression!

Cake Balls (from Bakerella)
1 box cake mix with all ingredients - I used Chocolate
Nearly 1 tub frosting (regular, not whipped) - I used Chocolate
Chocolate candy melts or chocolate bark (from craft store or Kroger)

Prepare cake as directed. Allow to cool completely (very important). Crumble cake into a large mixing bowl until all consistent and the texture of soil. Mix in almost all of the frosting container and press with the back of a large spoon until cake is well incorporated with the frosting and all is one consistency. I chilled the bowl for about 30 minutes at this point. Using a small scoop or a teaspoon, scoop out enough mixture to make about a one inch ball. Roll to even ball. Set onto a waxed piece of paper on a cookie sheet and chill in the fridge for another 30 minutes. Melt chocolate in a deep plastic bowl in the microwave (or use double boiler) according to package directions (be sure to follow the power level directions or you will ruin the chocolate!). Working quickly, drop balls one at a time into the chocolate and drizzle over the top with a large spoon. I removed from the chocolate with two forks and allowed to dry on the wax paper. Depending on your method and/or size of the balls, you can make anywhere between 40-80 balls. The balls are counter safe and do not need to be refrigerated. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My most ambitious dish yet!

When we were in Vegas, we ate at Mesa Grill, which is a Bobby Flay restaurant. We both really enjoyed our food, but my husband was disappointed when he overheard the waiter telling another patron that HIS favorite dish was my husband's second choice, the New Mexico Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Ancho Bourbon Sauce. My husband's glazed salmon was very good, but he really felt like he missed out on this dish, so I was so excited to see this was one of the dishes on Bobby Flay's website. I knew I just had to try it at home. What an adventure this was! From finding all the ingredients (even in California, where the grocery stores carry lots of dried chiles, some of these were hard to find) to starting the sauce at 2:00 today for dinner at 6:00, I knew this was going to be a meal to remember. Thankfully, the meal was memorable because it was awesome. The New Mexican spice rub was slightly sweet, like a Mole, and the ancho bourbon sauce was really spicy on its own (as I learned when I did a taste test of the sauce alone, yikes!), but complemented the meat really well and wasn't too alcoholic, although we were worried in the early stages of the sauce when the bourbon was cooking down! My husband (yes, the one who fears pork) actually went back to snatch up the little end pieces of pork and dip them in the leftover sauce. I'm probably overly proud of this meal (I kept calling myself the Iron Chef all night), but it just feels really good to make a meal that we would have ordered at a really nice restaurant. Recipe can be found here.

Mexican Chicken & Rice Casserole

I'm a big fan of casseroles. They are comforting, often one dish wonders, and tend to be food that everyone enjoys. One type of casserole that I've always liked the concept of is the standard "Campbell's Chicken & Rice Casserole." The only problem with this is that I really don't like cream of chicken soup. I'm not picky in regards to the "cream of xxx" soups, it is really just the cream of chicken that grosses me out. So when my sister in law introduced me to the Campbell's "Southwestern" style condensed soups, I was really excited and promptly made a chicken & rice casserole using Chicken Chile Verde soup and various other Southwestern flavors. It was really tasty and we ate it frequently until Campbell's discontinued the line of soups. It has been a few years, and I decided I needed to come up with a substitute. By only using 1/2 a can of cream of chicken and adding diced peppers and sour cream, I was able to recreate the recipe. I do realize that the zucchini doesn't really fit in with the Southwestern theme, but that is the best part about making up your own recipes - you can do whatever you feel like!

Mexican Chicken & Rice Casserole (my recipe, inspired by Campbell's Chicken & Rice Casserole)
2 6 oz chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
1 medium zucchini, sliced
Spices - even amounts of cumin, paprika, garlic powder and Chile powder to coat chicken (I used Chipotle Chile Powder this time and it was fantastic!)
3/4 cup long grain white rice
1/2 can of cream of chicken soup (I used low fat)
3 Tbs Sour Cream (I used low fat)
1 4 oz can diced chili peppers (mild)
1 cup picante sauce (I used medium)
1/2 cup water
1/2 to 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tsp olive oil
Cook spice coated chicken in skillet with heated oil until no longer pink, about 7 minutes. Add to 2 quart casserole dish. Add zucchini to skillet and saute until golden. Add to casserole dish. Mix remaining ingredients into casserole dish. Bake in 375 oven, covered. Remove cover, stir and top with cheese. Return to oven uncovered and cook for 5 more minutes until cheese is melted & bubbly.
(Nutrition info. to return soon - I'm lazy right now)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sun Dried Tomato and Laughing Cow Stuffed Chicken

Stuffed chicken is a great concept. You take boring chicken and turn it into a vessel for extraordinary yumminess and creativity. I've tried chicken stuffed with Laughing Cow cheese before, and I really liked it, but thought, "why stop there?" I came up with this idea for stuffed chicken with Laughing Cow cheese and sun dried tomato on my way home from work tonight and knew I had to try it for myself (Roger is not a fan of sun-dried tomatoes, surprisingly). He got plain Laughing Cow chicken, but I had a delicious culinary experience!

Sun Dried Tomato and Laughing Cow Stuffed Chicken by me! (inspired by a million Laughing Cow chicken recipes on the internet, but none like this)
2 6 oz boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 wedges garlic herb style Laughing Cow Cheese
4 Tbs sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
4-6 large fresh basil leaves
2 tsp garlic powder
1 egg, lightly scrambled in a shallow dish
1/2 cup bread crumbs in a shallow dish
cooking spray

Carefully cut a pocket into the side of each chicken breast, taking care not to slice all the way through. Cut each cheese wedge into approx. 1/3 pieces. Insert into chicken pocket evenly and then press down on the outside to make an even layer. Add approx. 2 Tbs of drained tomatoes into each chicken breast pocket, distributing evenly. Top cheese/tomato mixture with 2-3 basil leaves per breast. Press down to seal pocket, securing with toothpicks if necessary. Season breasts with garlic powder, then dip into egg and bread crumbs, taking care to coat evenly. Place on a shallow baking pan coated with cooking spray and cook for 20 minutes uncovered at 350 degrees. Spray tops of chicken with a light layer of cooking spray and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes more until tops are crispy and golden.

Santa Barbara Bike Fest

The most exhausting mountain bike race of the year has got to be the one that is closest to home, the Santa Barbara Bike Fest at Elings Park. The course is located on a beautiful bluff overlooking my favorite childhood beach. Part of what makes this a tiring course is that there are numerous spots on the course where spectators can see the racers, so I spend a lot of time literally running around to try and see the guys and/or take pictures. Another tiring aspect is that the coordination of water bottle hand offs is tedious at this race (the elite racers do 4 laps of the course, meaning 3 opportunities for hand offs). Finally, this is a race where so many people we know show up that it is quite the social event, and there is never a chance to just sit and relax. Thank goodness the car ride home is only 15 minutes long! Here are some pictures of the big day:
I showed up late, but still in time to watch John finish strong
And Luke, finishing his 3rd race of the weekend!
Roger on the starting climb
Steve showcasing the beautiful view from the bluff
All smiles and dirt at the finish for our talented team!

Lime Chicken Pasta

I tried this pasta recipe a couple of weeks ago but haven't had a chance to blog about it. We've been busy with races, and I unfortunately had to go to NYC for a funeral of a co-worker. I will miss my friend Yvonne, who bravely battled breast cancer for 3 years. While I was very glad I was able to go and honor my friend, it feels good to be back home. This recipe was good, but I am not a fan of sauces thickened with cornstarch. I think this recipe could be adjusted to be a good margarita pasta.

Spicy Garlic Lime Chicken
(from Amber's Delectable Delights)
1 cup chicken stock
1.5 tbls lime juice (adjusting amount to your liking)
1 tbls corn starch
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried thyme (I omitted since I didn't have)
1/4 tsp dried parsley
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (cut into bite size pieces)
1 tbls butter
1 tsp of olive oil
8 oz pasta (I used whole wheat rotini)
1 cup broccoli florets
Optional - Parmesan cheese for topping
1) Bring pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. During the last 5 minutes of pasta cook time add the broccoli into the boiling water. Drain.
2) Mix together all the sauce ingredients (chicken stock and cornstarch) and set aside.
3) Meanwhile, heat butter and olive oil in saucepan over medium heat. Coat chicken pieces with all spices and add to heated pan. Cook chicken until no longer pink. Pour the sauce ingredients into the pan with the chicken and bring to a simmer. Let simmer until chicken is cooked through and sauce has thickened.
4) Toss cooked broccoli and pasta with the chicken and sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese if desired and serve