Chicken Bacon Ranch Tater Tot Casserole

Can’t go wrong with cheese, bacon and crunchy tater-tot-ness.  Oh and there is some chicken buried in there too.  I eyeball this entire recipe when I make it, you really can’t wreck it. There is just two of us so I’m always making portions with that in mind, however this recipe easily doubles or it can be made in the crock pot.

Pre-heat the oven to 225.

Put the wine in the fridge to chill.

In a 8 x 8 (ish) casserole dish put half of the frozen taters in the bottom, single layer.  Sprinkle with the trio – 1 teaspoon of dry ranch dressing mix, and a handful each of cheese and bacon bits.  Place  ~6 to 8 chicken tenders over the tots.  Sprinkle the chicken with the trio and top with the rest of the tater tots followed by the trio one last time.  Pour milk over the top.

Cover and bake for 2 – 2.5 hours.  Uncover and let it bake for about 15 min to finish making the taters crispy around the edge.  Alternatively you can cook it on low layered in the crock pot for 4 hours.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle with chopped green onions.  Serve with a side salad or steamed broccoli.  Serves 4 people that will have their eyes rolling back in their head all yum like.

1 package of chicken tenders
About a half a bag of Ore-ida Crispy Crowns
3 teaspoons of dry ranch dressing mix (about half a package)
Bag of real bacon bits, I usually don’t use the whole 3oz
1.5 – 2 cups of cheese, I like Co-jack
1/2 cup of milk

Double it in a lasagna pan.

Crock pot – double up everything, and switch the tenders for three chicken breasts, cook on low for 4-5 hours.

Bodacious Mac n Cheese

That’s right I said Bodacious.  This is how I make mac and cheese, and it is a labor of love.  You might not think that mustard, mushrooms and and ham have a place in this classic but I promise it’s worth a little stretch on the traditional. (sorry no picture, we ate it all)

I have more tips and ideas at the bottom of the post for now; When you pick the cheese think melty soft squishy cheese.  If you pick cheese that is to dry the cheese sauce will be tacky and not saucy.

Labor of love, step 1
Pre heat the oven to 350C, and open the wine to let it breath. 
I start by warming the milk and cream in a small sauce pot, being cautions not to scorch it, while infusing it with flavors.   At a minimum I add the bay leaves, garlic and mustard as it is warming, but infusing the milk with the mushroom flavor is very subtle yet over the top.  This takes a while so I like to start it first.  If you don’t like the texture of mushrooms, no worry they don’t actually make it into the mac and cheese. 
Labor of love, step 2
Salt the pasta water and cook the noodles al dente.  When draining the pasta shake off as much water as possible and add it back to the still hot pot to help drive off as much of the water as possible.  This will keep the final product from getting to watery.  Add the diced ham and stir. 
Labor of love, step 3
You can make the bread crumb mixture now or in the end, doesn’t really matter.  Just toss the bread, Parmesan cheese and thyme in a blender or mini prep food processor, zip and done.  Mix with melted butter.  Too much fuss?  Store bought bread crumbs, work fine…just get some decent cheese none of that shakey mess.  Or skip it all together.
Labor of love, step 4+
Now it’s time for the foundation, the roux.  If you have never made a roux there are tons of articles out there, be patient you will get the hang of it.  It does need a lot of attention so I like to make it at the end when I can give it my full focus.  Melt the butter on low med until its foamy and add the flour, mixing to form a paste. Continue to cook the roux until it’s that toasty brown color and nutty fragrance.   Add the infused milk mixture, pouring through a strainer to remove the mushrooms and bay leaves.  Stir constantly, I like to use a whisk, heating it gently until it begins to thicken so about 2 min or so on med low.   Pull it off the heat and stir in the cheese.  
Pour all this mess into the pot with the noodles and ham, stir.  Then pour all of this glorious stuff into an oven safe dish, about 8 x 8 should do it, and top with bread crumbs.  Bake it at 350C until it is bubbly around the edge and the crumbs are lightly brown, about 20 min.
I know this is a lot of steps but like I said – a labor of love.  See below, after the ingredients, for a few extra tips and flavor ideas.  
Cheese Sauce (infused milk and roux)
1 cup of 2% milk
1 cup of heavy cream
1 -2 teaspoons mustard
1 teaspoons garlic powder
big handful of sliced mushrooms
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoons flour
1.5 cup of shredded cheese (truth I have used up to 2 cups)
1/2 lb of dry pasta, pick something that will hold the cheese but not have to compete with the size of the ham, favorites are med shells and corks screws
8 oz of diced ham
salt for the water
Bread crumb top
2 slices of white bread, day old is best
1/3 cup of parm cheese
(thyme is really good too)
Those after the credits tid bits – 
– Something I found to be helpful when making a roux; a white enamel pot takes the guess work out of the color.  
– Stuff I have put into the milk and would recommend any combination of; mustard, thyme, bay leaves, mushrooms, dash of liquid smoke, crushed garlic cloves, onion slices – experiment. 
– Ever had mac and cheese that was lumpy, that’s because the fat to starch ratio was off.  We usually only have 2% milk in the house, which is why I use the heavy cream for the extra needed fat.   However you can mix 3/4 cup of milk with 1/3 a cup of melted butter for 1 cup if heavy cream.  

Cheesy Wafers

There is something enjoyable about a simple selection of raw veggies, fruit, cheese, warmed bread, and a good selection of sliced meats.  I like to put everything out on a big white platter then invite guests to fix little plates of melon and prosciutto, warmed naan bread, carrots, hummus, marinated mushrooms  – whatever finger foods I can pull together.

When I started gathering nibbles last week I wanted to try and make cheese straws, but I had no desire to fuss with pipping them into adorable little ‘straws’.  I adapted a few recipes taking the best from each into one sewn together Frankenstein version of the best cheese wafers ever!

The paprika and cheddar turn these wafers a gorgeous color when baked.

Pre heat the oven to 350.

Mix together the flour, garlic, chipotle, smoked paprika, dill and seasoning salt – set this aside.

I like to put the cheese into a food processor ( I love my mini prep) and give it a quick spin.  The resulting chunky sticky grated texture bakes so well.

Using a hand mixer on a low speed, gently mix together the butter and cheese.  Add half the dry mixture from above and mix until combined, continue with the rest of the flour mixture and a few dashes of Worcestershire.

Open the wine to let it breathe, cover the dough with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for about 20 min.

Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and place about 2 inches apart on a heavy baking sheet lined with parchment paper.   Using the bottom of a floured drinking glass flatten the rounds to about ~1/4 of an inch.  At this point I chose to put them in the freezer for about 5-10 min, I wanted the cheese to bake not melt in the oven.

Bake 15 -18 min, they should be set completely around the edges, and bounce back in the middle when lightly pricked with a fork.  Oh and the aroma of garlic, cheese, herbs and a touch of smokey – ness will fill the kitchen.  Personally – I think they are best enjoyed with melon and fresh pineapple.

Yield 2 dozen.

1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1-2 teaspoons seasoning salt – I like Lawry’s
2 teaspoons dry dill
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
pinch of chipotle powder

1 stick of soft butter
2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
2 ‘dash’ of Worcestershire

– Mix everything in a heavy glass bowl, the glass will keep the dough chilled longer while you are rolling it into balls.
– I like to use the Pampered Chef all purpose dill seasoning.  It has a little dehydrated garlic and onion bits in it.  If you can’t find something of the like I recommend adding a little extra garlic powder and some minced dehydrated onion.

Seriously Good Orange Sticky Bread – Recipe

Seriously Good Orange Sticky Bread – Recipe

This dessert is a little bit gooey, not overly sweet and flavored with orange.  It reminds me a little of the orange cinammon rolls my mom would make when we had sleepovers.

1 tube of jumbo buttermilk biscuits, 8 count
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
6 Tablespoons of butter (~3/4 a stick)
3/4 cup of powdered sugar

1. Cut each biscuit into fourths.

2. In a deep microwave safe bowl melt the butter and allow to cool slightly.

3. On a plate or shallow dish sprinkle the powdered sugar, zest the lemon and orange directly onto the sugar.  Mix gently with a fork to combine.

4. Dip the biscuit pieces into the melted butter and roll in the sugar zest mixture.

5. Place sugared biscuit pieces into a bunt pan, it should make a rough two layers of biscuit pieces.

6.  Once all of the sugared biscuit pieces have placed in the bunt pan sprinkle with remaining sugar, followed by 1 tablespoon of the remaining butter.

7.  Squeeze 1/2 of the lemon over the dough

7. Bake for 30 min at 350C or until the top of the bread turns a light golden brown.

Serve warm. Typically, unable to hold off our piggish tendencies, we have eaten it right out of the pan. However, if you are having company you may want to turn them out onto a plate after allowing to cool for five minutes. You probably wont have to worry about the next part; store left overs in an airtight container at room temp.

Apple Danish with Lemon and Lavender

My sister in law has introduced me to culinary lavender.  She gave me some from a lavender field in Delaware near where she lives.  I have put it on ice cream, added it to chicken dishes, made scones but I think my favorite is adding it to this apple danish.   Typically I will measure most ingredients in a recipe but not always.  I will zest one lemon and it is what it is, I don’t bother measuring out a tablespoon.  Sometimes I peel the apples, sometimes I don’t.  As for the lavender I just sprinkle a little on top before I close up the pastry.  The addition is very subtle but it enhances the overall flavor without over powering the harmony between the apples and lemon.  Using lavender is honestly worth a try.



Pot Stickers

Pot stickers, chinese dumplings…whatever.  Pork stuffed goodness stuffed in a wrapper and fried till crispy…..yes please.  I found the recipie here and followed it closely with the exception of ~1/4 a teaspoon of fresh ground ginger.

After mushing up all the meat. I let it sit in the fridge for about two hours, then filled wonton wrappers.

Fold diagonally, seal the edges and bring the corners up to the middle.

I continued to follow the recipe while keeping them warm in the oven.  Served with sauteed carrots.


Creamy Cajun Chicken

This is a fool proof perfectly easy dinner and it all happens in one pot.

– 2 chicken breast, thinly sliced
– 1 -2 Tablespoons of cajun seasonings
– 1 package (9 oz.) of fresh linguine
– 2 Tablespoons of butter
– 2 green onions, thinly slices
– 1 cup of heavy cream
– 1/2 cup of milk
– 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
– 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (good stuff, not that shaky mess in the can)
– 2 cup, lightly packed, fresh spinach
– salt and pepper to taste

Start a pot of boiling water for the pasta. Sprinkle the chicken with the cajun seasoning and stir well to combine.  In a large sauce pot, fitted with a lid melt the butter over medium heat.  Melt the butter until it starts to bubble, then add the chicken. With the lid on, cook until the chicken is no longer pink and cooked through.

 Reduce the heat and add the cream, milk, garlic powder, green onions and season with salt and pepper.  Allow this to simmer with the lid off; stir often.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta and drain reserving ~1/2 cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the chicken mixture along with the pasta water, stir to combine.  Add the Parmesan cheese and stir well to combine.  Place the spinach in the pot and replace the lid.

Allow the spinach to wilt, ~ 2 min, stir again and serve. 

Quick Roast Beef Sandwiches

These are great in the summer during the work week because they are quick and I dont have to use the oven.  Better yet, we can enjoy them on the back deck and not feel like we had a heavy dinner.

1 lb sliced deli roast beef, cut into 1″ strips
4 small sub rolls – toasted if you like
1 Tbs of butter
4 garlic cloves minced
6 oz of dark beer (half a bottle, geee I wonder what to do with the other half)
6 oz water
2 Tbs of ketchup
3 Tbs of Worcestershire Sauce
3 Tbs of what I call squirty basil.  Its typically in the refrigerated produce section with the herbs.  If you cant find this 1/4 a cup of finely chopped fresh basil will do, but the squirty kind is quicker.

In a ten inch non stick skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and sautte the garlic.
While the garlic is cooking mix together the beer, water, ketchup, W sauce and basil.
Reduce the heat to low and add the beef to the skillet immediately followed by the beer mixture.  Simmer on low until the meat is heated through.  Using tongs pull the meat out piling it directly onto the sub rolls.  Reserve the juice in the pan to dip the sandwiches in.  Yes please!

Spicy Tex Mex Tater Salad

At the request of my mother in law I am going to try and write this recipe down.  This is a spicy, smokey take on a traditional potato salad.  My husband says this really isnt a potato salad, it just happens to have potatoes in it, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Everything is an estimate because I never measure,so just wing it and you will do fine.

6-8 red skin potatoes
4-6 hard boiled eggs
2 celery stalks
1 cup black beans, rinsed
8 slices of bacon
red bell pepper
1 cup of cilantro
1 – 1.5 cups of mayonase
1-3 chiles in adobe
1/2 tspn lemon juice
1 tablespoon of sugar

Cut the potatoes into bite size chunks and boil until tender.  Cool and set aside.
Cook the bacon until crisp and crumble, set aside.
While the potatoes are still cooking dice the celery, red bell pepper, eggs, and cilantro.  Place everything into a large bowl, adding in the black beans.  Fold the ingredients until everything looks distributed.
In either a small food processor, like the cuisinart mini prep, or a blender place the mayo, a little of the sugar and a squirt of the lemon juice.  Typically i will preach that juice from a lemon is so much better than the squirty kind but in this case its perfect.  The purpose of the juice is to cut the mayo flavor back a bit not to really taste the lemon.  Give it a quick whirl to combine the ingredients.  Now add the chilies one at a time, pulsing the mixture several times to distribute the chili.  Before you add another one, taste it! The heat should sneak up on you with a hint of the smokey flavor.  However, if you want to burn your face off go for it.  At this point I just keep adding sugar, lemon and the chilies until it tastes right.
Then, adding a little at a time, combine the spicy mayo with the additional ingredients.

Hint: if you arent going to serve it the same day its made, hold off on the bacon and add it at just before serving. This way it stays crispy and doesnt get soggy sitting in the fridge.

Apricot Cranberry Scones with Toasted Almonds

Apricot Cranberry Scones with Toasted Almonds

Scones!  What tea party would be complete without tasty scones?  My girlfriend Carey gave me the original recipe and I made a few substitutions to accommodate what I had in the fridge.  

1/2 cup lightly toasted sliced almonds (originally walnuts)
4 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces
2 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups dried cranberries (I had dried apricots that needed used up so I did half/half with the cranberries )
1/2 cup coarse sugar – for sprinkling on top

425 oven

-combine dry ingredients in bowl
-cut in butter
-add half the whipping cream and lightly stir, add the remaining and stir until just combined
– Carey says: all of this can be done in the food processor or by hand
-place dough on lightly floured surface and gently knead in cranberries and nuts
-form dough into rectangle 3/4 thick (Carey says: I think i have also done it in a circle)                       -cut into 6 squares and then cut each square in half (Carey says: sometimes I cut in half again to have baby scones)
-top each with coarse sugar
-Carey says: (the recipe has you put these straight into the oven but i normally stick them in the freezer for about 15 – 30 min first)
-place on baking sheet ( Carey says: i use a silpat or parchment paper)
-bake about 20 min or until golden brown
Tip:  Dusting a little flour on the cranberries and apricots kept them from sticking to each other and made them easier to distribute into the dough.