Monday, July 25, 2011

Joey's Chicken Florentine Casserole

I was recently in the mood for some comfort food, but I didn't want the usual mac n cheese or mashed potatoes. I figured a casserole would be the way to go, and decided to make it with rice instead of noodles. So I threw a few things together in a pan, made a sauce, and BOOM! we have a new recipe! Isn't it fun how that works? I was going for convenience since I already had most of the ingredients on hand, and actually, it was pretty inexpensive over all. Not only that, I'm sure you could feed a crowd with it. But the most important thing is that it was just thing to hit the spot! Delicious! I love it when a plan comes together, don't you? :)
Try it!

1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2  10 oz pkgs frozen chopped spinach, thawed
3 or 4 boneless chicken breasts
4 tbs butter
1/2 cup flour
3 cups milk
a couple pinches of nutmeg
8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
6 cups cooked long grain rice
Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 350F.
In a large skillet, over medium heat, saute onions until they become soft. Add garlic and continue to saute. Squeeze any extra water out of the spinach and add it to the onions. Stir them together for a minute or two. Remove them to a bowl. Set aside. Cut chicken into small pieces. Dredge the pieces in seasoned flour. Add a little oil to the pan and add the chicken in two batches. Brown the chicken on all sides, but don't cook it all the way through. When the chicken is lightly golden, remove it from pan and add to the bowl with the spinach. In the same pan, melt the butter, then whisk in the flour, making sure to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Let it cook for a minute or so, then whisk in the milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper. When it thickens, add half of the cheese. Stir until smooth. Now it's time to put it all together.
 There's really no right or wrong way to assemble the casserole. A, you can place all the rice in a greased 9x13 dish, then layer the other ingredients on top. (just as you would make Broccoli Rice Casserole). B, you can mix the sauce with the rice and then spread half the rice mixture in the greased casserole dish, then layer the chicken and spinach over it, followed by the other half of the rice mixture on top. Or C, you could even throw everything into a big bowl, mix the whole works together and pour it into your casserole dish. It'll turn out fine any way you do it. (As you can see, I opted for plan B.) Bake it for about 30-40  minutes or until bubbly, topping the casserole with the reserved cheese just at the last 10 minutes. Let it sit for about 15 minutes after you take it out of the oven to give it a chance to set up. 

If you like mushrooms, feel free to add them to the onions when you saute. 
I used leftover cooked rice. If you're cooking your rice just for this dish, do that first before you start the recipe. The rice will be ready by the time you're ready to assemble the dish. Also, use chicken stock or bouillon to cook the rice instead of water. It makes a HUGE difference! Oh, and I know it's usually an option to add butter to the rice when you cook it, but don't. There's plenty enough butter in the sauce.
If you're not feeling the Moneterey Jack, choose another cheese that melts really well.
Make sure you season as you go. Every component needs to be seasoned well, otherwise your casserole will be bland. Season the onions and spinach as you saute. Season the flour with salt, pepper and garlic powder before you dredge the chicken. And season the sauce with lots of salt and pepper, even bouillon granules or a splash of white wine.
Be sure to take the time to let it set up after you remove it from the oven. It's really a much nicer presentation if you cut it into squares. Besides, if you eat it as soon as you take it out of the oven, you'll burn your tongue.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Joey's Frozen Tropical Breeze

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was in the mood for a milkshake. Well, no, not a milkshake, because they can sometimes feel too heavy. A smoothie!!!! Well, no, not a smoothie, because they can sometimes be too thick and not very smooth at all. I was in the mood for a yummy beverage that was as refreshing as a light breeze, but not too much like a dessert, and I wanted it to be frozen, but I didn't want to add ice (because that always seems to water everything down). So I browsed around my fridge to see what might fit the bill. I found a few simple ingredients, whirred everything up with a blender, and suddenly I had found what I was looking for! It was light and refreshing and frozen and delicious and perfect! So the next time you need to cool off on a hot day, give this a try and enjoy the breeze!

Pineapple or mango sherbet
chunks of fresh pineapple
Tropical Blend V8 Splash

Place 5 or 6 chunks of fresh pineapple in a blender. Add a 2 or 3 scoops of sherbet. Add equal portions of V8 Splash and milk, just until it almost covers the other ingredients. Blend everything until smooth. You want it to be thin enough to pour. If it's not thin enough, add more milk and V8 Splash. Serve in a fancy glass with fresh  pineapple to garnish if you like. And that's all there is to it!

Instead of using a regular blender, I used an immersion blender and just mixed everything up in a tall pitcher.
One of the things I like most about this drink is that it has such a fresh clean taste. I tried adding a little heavy cream to it and it just made it heavier, not better. You could, however, try adding a little coconut flavored rum..... I'm just sayin!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Joey's Spicy Mary

 Here's a little cocktail that I've been making since I can't even remember when. I've always liked V-8 juice more than plain tomato juice just because it's so much more flavorful. I guess my body craves vegetables from time to time because I seem to go on V-8 kicks every so often and I'll drink it like it's my job. It's just so satisfying and it always gives me a boost!
 Anyway, one day I poured myself a glass, just as a mid morning pick me up, and decided to add a bunch of things to it. I loved the way it turned out, and I've been drinking it this way ever since. Then one day I thought, "hmm, maybe I should write this down." It was only then that I realized that it's basically a Bloody Mary with my own little twist. (which is why I added vodka to the recipe). If you know me, you probably know that I rarely ever drink and that I'm not really one for "hot & spicy", so I always leave out the vodka and throttle back the spice. But if you want the kick and love the heat, have at it!

12 oz V-8 juice
1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs fresh lemon juice (about half a lemon)
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Dash or two Tabasco sauce
1 oz  Vodka (optional)

Place all ingredients in a tall glass with ice.
May be shaken vigorously or stirred lazily, as desired.
Garnish with a rib of celery.

To make it extra spicy, use Spicy V-8 juice instead of the regular, and add as much Tabasco as you're brave enough to add. You can also add a diced jalapeno, or even a Habanero chili if you're a maniac.
Clearly, all of the ingredients are added to taste. If you like a lot, add a lot!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Joey's Fresh Blackberry and Mango Galette

 Have you ever heard of a galette? It's a sort of free form pie, filled with anything that your heart desires. I was first inspired to make one when I stopped by to visit my friends, Dina and Tony. Dina was cooking up a storm (as always) and she had made an apple galette for dessert, which was SO delish! I thought "what could be easier?" It kind of takes all fear out of making a pie. So, I decided to make one too, only I chose blackberries and mangoes for the filling. The mangoes were SO juicy and ripe, and the blackberries were just as plump as could be. I thought, why not? So here it is. It's my own recipe and I hope you like it!

2 ripe mangoes, peeled and sliced
2 6 oz containers fresh blackberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 heaping tbs cornstarch (plus a little extra if the fruit is really juicy)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbs fresh lemon juice
Tiny pinch of salt
1 ready made pie crust or half recipe for Easy Pie Crust

Heat oven to 350F.
Place fruit in a small mixing bowl. Add remaining filling ingredients. Gently toss until coated.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pie crust into a large circle. Carefully roll up the pie crust over your floured rolling pin, then unroll it onto a parchment lined baking tray. Pile the fruit mixture into the center of the pie crust. Spread it out a little, leaving a 2" border around the edges. Fold pie crust edges over the fruit. Brush the crust with an egg wash, if desired, then sprinkle with a little white sugar + a little cinnamon. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the crust is golden and fruit is bubbly. Let it cool for 15 minutes before serving. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

You can tell if a mango is really ripe when most of the peel becomes a deep red. If it's mostly green, it's not ripe enough. But go ahead and purchase it anyway, then let it sit in a paper bag at room temperature for 2 or 3 days until it ripens.
Can't find blackberries? Use blueberries instead! Don't like mangoes? Use peaches instead!

Btw, an egg wash is simply a beaten egg with a little bit of water added to it. When you brush it onto any bread or crust, it gives a nice golden shine to whatever you're baking.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Joey's Pineapple Relish

You've heard of using pickle relish to top hamburgers and hot dogs, right? Why not try something a little different? Why not add a little tropical touch to your next BBQ? Serve this over grilled pork, ham, chicken, fish, burgers, hot dogs, anything at all! It's REALLY easy to make and it's the perfect unexpected something. It kind of has the same sort of dynamic as fried onions, only with a tropical note. Cool, huh? Yes, it's my own recipe and I hope you like it! Oh, and it goes GREAT with a nice smoky BBQ sauce.
Try it!

3 tbs butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups fresh pineapple, chopped
a splash of apple cider vinegar
2 tbs honey
Juice from 1/2 lemon or lime
big pinch Kosher salt
lots of freshly cracked black pepper 

Melt butter in a large skillet and add onions. Saute over medium heat until the onions are soft. Add remaining ingredients. Let it continue to saute for about 30 minutes, stirring often. The liquid will evaporate and the texture will become sort of soft and sticky. It's ready when the pineapple's bright yellow color becomes much deeper and almost golden. Serve warm or cold over grilled anything.

You really want to let this saute slowly for a good half hour so that the sugars will caramelize.
Don't have honey? Use brown sugar instead!
You can easily substitute just about any favorite vinegar instead of the apple cider. Red or white wine, champagne, even just regular white vinegar would be fine. I wouldn't use balsamic vinegar, though. It has a much milder and much sweeter flavor. You want something with a little more punch.
 If you want to crank it up a little more, add a little diced jalapeno or other chili pepper.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ice Cream Sandwiches

 This is more of an idea rather than a recipe.  I'm certainly not the first person to do this, but I made them recently and I'm absolutely amazed at how well received they were!
 I was having friends over and money was a little tight that week. I wanted to come up with a dessert, but I needed to use what I already had on hand. At first I thought I'd just whip up a batch of cookies and leave it at that, but then remembered I had a half gallon of ice cream in the freezer. Suddenly something yummy turned into something fun and AMAZING! I have to say, they were pretty awesome. Several days later, I mentioned them to my friend, White, and she said "You MADE the cookies?" Um, HELLO have you met me? Of course I made the cookies!!  That's what made them extra special!! Are you kidding? If I had the time and ingredients, I'd have made the ice cream too!  hehehehehe
 Anyway, so here's proof that you don't need to be a chef to come up with a yummy fabulous and fun dessert, especially on a hot summer day.
 Simply choose any favorite Cookies and pair them with any favorite Ice Cream and you're all set to go! You can make everything home made or just pick some up from the store on the way home. Either way, there won't be any left! Promise!!

If you're baking your own cookies, underbake them slightly so that they're soft and chewy when they cool. It's easier to squish a scoop of ice cream between them when they're not as crumbly.
Also, when you bake your cookies, use something to measure them so that they're all the same. A tbs measuring spoon or a small ice cream scoop works really well. Then roll the dough into balls before you put them onto the sheet. They'll bake into perfectly round cookies that are all the same size, perfect for sandwiches!

Special thanx to Davin Boshnack for making this photo possible!!


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Potato and Corn Casserole

 Ok, so you've just had a big BBQ, and now you have lots of leftover corn on the cob, and baked potatoes, right? Well, at least that was the situation I was in after a recent get together. With money as tight as it is these days, it just makes no sense to throw away leftovers, or leave them in the fridge only to throw them away a week later, right? So I figured, why not breathe new life into them and make a casserole? Waste not want not! I had several ears of corn on the cob, and several Grilled Potato and Onion  Bundles, so I just threw everything into a big bowl with some other ingredients and voila! New dish! I love the sweetness of the corn with the sharpness of the cheese. Fabulous! And the corn flakes are the perfect crunchy topping. It actually turned out to be a much lighter casserole than one might expect because I used a low fat cheese and also skim milk. Still very hearty, but not quite as "stick to your ribs". Know what I mean? So the next time you have some leftovers, don't throw 'em away! You can always create something else with them. Try it!

1 onion, roughly chopped
1 pint fresh mushrooms, sliced
3 potatoes, peeled and diced (or leftover baked)
2 cans corn, (or leftover corn, cut off the cob)
2 cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 soup can of milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
corn flakes

Heat oven to 350F.
Saute onions and mushrooms with a little oil over medium heat until lightly browned. A lot of liquid will come out of the mushrooms, but just continue to saute until it evaporates and everything begins to brown. In the meantime, par boil and drain the potatoes, just to give them a little head start. (clearly, you don't have to do this if you're using leftover baked potatoes).
 Now simply place all ingredients except the corn flakes in a huge bowl and stir to mix. Pour mixture into a lightly sprayed 9x13 casserole dish. Place dish in heated oven. Baked for about 40 minutes. Top with corn flakes (as much as you like). Bake for 5-10 minutes longer.

The amounts are just guidelines. I really had no exact measurements. I was just using what I had leftover. Basically, if you like a lot, add a lot.
If you're not a fan of mushrooms, simply omit them and use a different kind of cream based soup. Cream of chicken, cream of broccoli, cream of celery, all perfect.
Add anything you like! Any veggies would work. Broccoli, asparagus, etc. You could also had some shredded rotisserie chicken or even diced ham. Yum.
If you're not a fan of cheddar, add any kind of soft cheese that melts nicely. Actually, I was originally gonna use Swiss cheese, but cheddar is what I happened to have on hand.
You can also substitute buttered bread crumbs or french fried onion rings instead of the corn flakes.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Strawberry Salsa

 I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I've never met a fruit salsa I didn't like! So, of course, I'm always excited to try a fruit salsa that is new and fun.
 I was trying to think of a new red, white, and blue recipe for July 4th festivities, but I could only think of the usual strawberry and blueberry desserts. Then I thought, what if I do something savory instead? So I began to look up strawberry salsa recipes. I found quite a few variations! Some people add tomatoes, some add several kinds of bell peppers, some add oranges.
 I decided to just stay with a basic tried-and-true salsa recipe, only using strawberries instead of tomatoes. It worked beautifully! Actually, it'll work with any fruit you'd like to use. Literally, you can use this recipe and just switch out the main ingredient. Might as well stick with a winning combination, right? Like the old saying goes "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". So here you go. Maybe next time I'll try it with peaches, but for now, I'll stick with the red white and blue!

2 quarts fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and chopped
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup orange juice
Juice of one lime
Kosher salt
Black pepper, freshly cracked

Simply stir all ingredients together in a large bowl. Can be served right away, but it's better if you let it chill in the fridge for about an hour. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips. Also great over grilled chicken, pork, or fish.

-The key to any good salsa is to balance all the flavors. You should be able to taste all the flavors, but nothing should overpower anything else. Oh, and chop everything REALLY finely so it'll be easy to scoop up on a tortilla chip!
-This recipe makes quite a big batch, but you can easily cut it in half if you have a smaller crowd.
-If you would rather use a jarred jalapeno instead of the fresh, go for it! Add as much as you like!
-I like a milder salsa, so I discarded the seeds and insides of the jalapeno pepper, but if you like the heat, go ahead and chop and drop the whole pepper, seeds and all!
-To turn up the heat even further, add your favorite hot pepper or Tabasco sauce.
-To make it red white and blue for your 4th of July BBQ, serve it with blue corn chips and a big dollop of sour cream. Yes, sour cream goes GREAT with any kind of salsa!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

4th of July

I always like to serve something red white and blue for the 4th of July.
It's just the perfect thing to make an ordinary BBQ into a holiday BBQ!
So here's my growing list of 4th of July recipes.
Give them a try!
I know you'll love them.
And have a safe and happy 4th of July!

Joey's Red, White, and Blueberry Trifle

Revolutionary Berry Cheese Pie

Liberty Squares

Raspberry Pretzel Delight

Strawberry Salsa