Monday, October 31, 2011

Crunchy Asian Noodle Salad

Perfect Pairing:  Jelly jar

I think most people are familiar with the classic Napa cabbage salad with ramen noodles.  I am a fan of that salad but this Crunchy Asian Noodle Salad one-upped the traditional version.  It uses a Suddenly Salad pasta mix and incorporates fresh veggies, cilantro, green onions and mandarin oranges.  The dressing has lots of flavor from the ramen and pasta seasoning packets.  This is a great salad for a potluck or big group.  The picture below was a double batch I made for a group of 30 people.  I usually add the dressing at the last moment so everything stays crunchy.  I also keep the noodle/almond mixture on the side and let people add that to their plates.  I have also made this for a main dish and added grilled, sliced chicken on top.
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is an empty jelly jar.  Whenever I finish a jar of jelly I always clean out the jar and keep it around for homemade dressings.  Combine everything in the jar and give it a good shake.  It is great to take with you because the screw on top is leak-proof.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

O'Henry Bars

Perfect Pairing: Halloween Party

My office had a Halloween Party this year and strongly encouraged everyone to dress up. If it was part of a theme…. even better! The ladies in my department decided on Disney characters. Our cast included Pocahontas, Esmeralda, Snow White, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, and Alice in Wonderland. I was Alice. Another group in the company came as Bears Super Fans (think SNL, early 90’s). They were hysterical.
Everyone was encouraged to bring a food item that went along with your theme. Since Alice in Wonderland attends a mad tea party I considered scones and tea sandwiches but somehow that didn’t seem appropriate for an office party. I decided on O’Henrys, a homemade candy bar. They are so simple to make (all in the microwave) and pretty delicious. They are the perfect thing to bring to a Halloween party!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Weenie Roast

Perfect Pairing:  Hot Dog Topping Bar
An old-fashioned weenie roast on a fall evening is one of the best things going.  Recently my parents invited friends and family over to roast hot dogs, sip wine and cider, and enjoy the fall foliage.  We really lucked out with the weather, it was a gorgeous night.  The sun was shining on the trees and lake, there was no wind to blow smoke in faces, and the temperature was perfect for sitting around a fire after the sun goes down.

No party is complete without lots of good food, drinks, and friends!


We had planned to carve a pumpkin during the day for display that night, but time just got away from us, as it often does on the day of a party.  We decided to go ahead and carve it during the party.  It was fun getting input from everyone!
I feel like this pumpkin is enjoying his final moments before the carving begins.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Broccoli and Mushroom Sauté

Perfect Pairing:  Chicken base

I am always looking for side dish recipes that are healthy, tasty, and quick.  Does anyone remember the Uncle Ben magazine ad that showed a beautifully prepared main dish served alongside some store-bought chips? Basically it was alluding to the fact that so many people spend all of their time creating lovely entrées and neglect what else is on the plate.  I thought it was pretty brilliant. 
This broccoli and mushroom sauté is really simple but the addition of sherry, shallots and garlic adds a lot of flavor without adding many calories.  It pairs nicely with grilled chicken or fish.  I think it would also be tasty on top of whole wheat pasta with freshly grated parmesan cheese and lots of black pepper. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween Candy Bark

Perfect Pairing:  Halloween Oreos

What is Halloween without candy and sweet treats?  This cute Halloween Candy Bark is full of candy corn, cookies, sprinkles and white chocolate goodness.  The addition of salty pretzels helps balance out the sweetness.  It is a fun treat to make since you can be really creative with the decoration.  I used a combination of candy corn, black sugar, and Halloween themed sprinkles.
The Perfect Pairing for this bark is Halloween Oreos.  You could definitely make this with regular Oreos but I love the bright orange frosting! 
Start off by crushing up your pretzels and Oreos and spread them onto a baking sheet lined with waxed paper.  I recommend breaking them up on a separate tray to reduce the amount of crumbs.

Pour the white chocolate/almond bark over the pieces and spread it out carefully.  Top it off with your favorite decorations and allow to cool until it has completely hardened.  Serve it up in your favorite Halloween serving piece!

It will be gone before you know it!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Baked Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Oatmeal

Perfect Pairing:  Your morning coffee

If you have never tried baked oatmeal, you should give it a shot.  It is like a mix between an oatmeal bar and your typical breakfast oatmeal. It can be modified a hundred different ways to incorporate your favorite flavors.  This version is one I whipped up with things I had on hand.  It has a decidedly fall feel to it but would be good all year long.  It is great leftover, just warm it up a bit and you have breakfast.  I like to make it during the weekend and enjoy it for breakfast the rest of the week.  It is a nice change from my usual instant oatmeal at work!
The Perfect Pairing for this baked pumpkin chocolate chip oatmeal is a cup of your morning coffee.  I just started drinking coffee a few years ago and now it is something I look forward to in the mornings.    The slightly sweet flavor of the baked oatmeal is perfect with your morning cup of joe. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Apple Crisp

Perfect Pairing:  Golden Delicious or Yellow Delicious Apples
What is it about fall weather that makes you want to pick apples, eat pumpkin flavored treats, play in leaves and dress up like a ridiculous character?  I have no explanation for it but I am definitely prone to fall-themed emotional attachments.  This apple crisp is perfect for those “crisp” fall days when you are craving a cozy dessert.  Of course it is best served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
The Perfect Pairing for this apple crisp is golden delicious or yellow delicious apples.  These apples are not the best for snacking but they are great in desserts.   You can make this with other varieties of apples but I think these are the best varieties for apple desserts.  I act like I know what I am talking about…. But I have learned this from my grandma and mom who have made a ridiculous number of apple pies and apple crisps.  This advice comes straight from the gurus of apple dessert.  They know what they are talking about!

Apple Crisp
Lindsay at Perfecting the Pairing

·          4 cups apples, peeled and diced (preferably Golden Delicious or Yellow Delicious)
·         ½ cup sugar
·         2 Tb flour
·         1/8 tsp salt
·         ¼ tsp cinnamon
·         ½ tsp vanilla
·         1/8 tsp nutmeg
·         ¾ cup old fashioned oats
·         ¾ cup flour
·         ¼ tsp baking soda
·         ¼ tsp baking powder
·         ½ cup brown sugar
·         4 Tb butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl combined the diced apples and next six ingredients (through nutmeg).  Stir until apples are evenly coated.  Pour apple mixture into a greased 11x7 or 9x9 dish.  In the same bowl combine the oats, flour and remaining ingredients.  Stir until combined.  Pour the oat mixture over the apples and press down lightly.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until apples are bubbly and the top is golden.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hasselback Potatoes

Perfect Pairing:  Chopsticks

I just think these potatoes are so pretty.  Hasselback potatoes are Swedish in origin.  The name comes from Hasselbacken, a restaurant in Stockholm where they were first served.  These spuds take more prep time than your standard baked potato but the presentation is worth it.  The outside gets crispy and the inside stays tender. 
The Perfect Pairing for these potatoes is chopsticks.  Stay with me…. To prep these guys you have to slice almost all the way through the potato but not all the way to the cutting board.  I placed the potato in between two chopsticks and the chopsticks stopped my knife from cutting all the way through to the cutting board.

There is not really an official recipe for the Hasselback Potatoes, it is more of a method. After I sliced the potatoes, I thinly sliced one clove of garlic for each potato and slid the garlic pieces in between the slices of potato.  I drizzled olive oil on top and sprinkled them with salt and pepper.  You could also add a little butter to the top if you prefer.  I baked them in a 425 degree oven for 40-50 minutes, or until the center of the potato was tender.  I covered them with foil for the last 15 minutes to keep the outside from getting too crispy.  I think next time I may make my slices a bit wider, just personal preference. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Coconut Curry Fish

Perfect Pairing:  Caribbean Bean Puree

I am a big fan of curry and coconut, combined or by themselves.  This fish has lots of great flavor and can be made with things you probably already have in your pantry.  The sauce is quick to whip up and can be made right in the baking dish to avoid dirty dishes.  By the way, this sauce is also great as a marinade for chicken.  For this particular recipe I used tilapia but you could definitely use any flaky, white fish.  I always end up buying tilapia because it is so neutral in flavor… and cheap.
The Perfect Pairing for this fish is the Caribbean Bean Puree recipe I featured yesterday.  I love to take a bite of the fish with the bean puree.  The flavors and textures are great together.  You may also want to serve it alongside some rice to soak up the yummy sauce.  Since you only need ½ cup of coconut milk in the fish sauce you can use the leftover to replace some of the water or broth to cook the rice. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Caribbean Bean Puree

Perfect Pairing:  Bob Marley, Legend Album
The ingredient list for this recipe may seem a little strange.  Black beans and bananas?  You are just going to have to trust me on this one.  This Caribbean Bean Puree is SO yummy.  I love beans in any form but I think this is my all-time favorite bean dish.  I know it seems strange, but give it a try.  There is just a hint of banana flavor which is balanced by the garlic, shallots, cumin and lime juice.
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is my all-time, number one, absolute favorite album…. Bob Marley’s, Legend.  I have already professed my love for all things Caribbean on this blog, so I am sure this comes as no surprise.  Even if you are not a reggae fan you will love this album.  It has many of his iconic classics like I Shot the Sherriff, Could You Be Loved, and my personal favorite, Three Little Birds.  It is the perfect thing to listen to while making and enjoying this dish. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Perfect Pairing:  Parchment Paper

It is hard to improve on the classic chocolate chip cookie, but this pumpkin version is perfect for fall.  The addition of pumpkin and autumn spices adds a subtle but tasty flavor. I chose to use the canned pumpkin pie mix rather than 100% pumpkin since it already had a lot of the spices included.  These cookies come out a little cake-like compared to a traditional cookie, but I like the texture.  They are definitely a fall favorite with my family.  Even my ADORABLE niece and nephews loved them!
Can you even stand the cuteness?  Those curls!

I saw lots of little hands reaching up to the counter to grab the cookies.

This little one is not ready for cookies yet but I had to share her picture because she is just so perfect.

The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is parchment paper.  I found that these particular cookies come off the pan much easier when you line the pan with parchment paper rather than cooking spray.  It is also easy clean up.  Bonus!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Warm Potato and Tuna Salad over Arugula

Perfect Pairing: Grocery store salad bar

This salad is deceptively delicious.  When I first sent the recipe to my mom she was dubious.  After I made it she declared that it was one of her favorite meals.  The warm potatoes soak up the tartness of the vinegar and pair nicely with the rich taste of the tuna and olives.  Everything is served over a bed of peppery arugula.  The picture above shows a double recipe that I made for a crowd.
I usually do not purchase the tuna packed in olive oil but I definitely think it is the way to go with this recipe rather than tuna packed in water.  The amounts listed in the recipe are more suggestions and can be modified to suit your tastes.  Be sure to taste the salad at the end and add more salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar as needed. 
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is the salad bar at your grocery store.  The recipe calls for a small amount of celery and carrots.  If you are like me, you will end up with the extra in your crisper drawer for way too long.  Utilize your store’s salad bar and buy just want you need.  It is already clean and ready to go.  While it may seem like a silly extra step to cook the potatoes with the vegetables, it adds a lot of flavor. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rosemary Cocktail Nuts

Perfect Pairing:  Cold glass of beer

These nuts are crazy good…. can’t stay out of them, everyone will be asking you how to make them, probably should triple the batch good.  The combination of spicy cayenne, herby rosemary, sweet brown sugar and a dose of salt is perfect.  My mom made these for a party recently and it was fun to watch the reactions as people scooped out a few, thinking they were your standard mixed nuts, only to realize they are very special.  I have to warn you, they are really addictive.
We used a mixed nut variety that had almonds, macadamia nuts, cashews, and pecans.  There were probably some other nuts in there, I just don’t remember.  For the record, nuts are much cheaper at Costco or Sams than at the regular grocery store.  You may want to play with the spices and increase the cayenne if you like things spicy or change up the salt and sugar ratio. 

The Perfect Pairing for these nuts is a cold beer.  The spicy kick is not overwhelming but it is nice to have a cold drink close at hand.  Everyone enjoyed these while watching the Bears win.  Bear down!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Roasted Vegetable Dip

Perfect Pairing:  Tomato paste in a tube

This recipe is officially my new favorite dish and will probably appear at every party I host.  I have made it three times in the last three weeks, so that should tell you something!  It is just so good and easy to make.  My favorite part about it is how healthy it is, you can really feel good about all of the ingredients. Look how pretty the veggies look before going into the oven.
Even if you don’t love eggplant, try this dip.  I serve it with toasted crostini or high fiber crackers.  I think it tastes best at room temperature rather than straight out of the fridge.  The first time I made it was for a dinner with my honey and we both loved it.  I also made it for a big family gathering and a get together with sorority sisters in Galena, IL.  Side note… Galena is absolutely gorgeous in the fall.  I knew it would be pretty, but it was stunning.  We happened to be there for the Country Fair (not on purpose), which is a large craft event.  I could not believe how many people were in town for this thing.  There were literally thousands of people on the streets.  I would not necessarily recommend going on this weekend!  We still had a great time despite the crowds.  Below are a few of the best landscape shots from the weekend.

The Perfect Pairing for this dish is tomato paste in a tube.  I discovered this a few years ago and thought it was a great idea.  Recipes don’t usually call for more than a few tablespoons of tomato paste so I either throw out half a can of paste because I don’t feel like dealing with it or I end up with a half-used can in my refrigerator which I will throw out during the next cleaning.  These tubes are great because you just use what you need, and store the rest in the refrigerator.  After opening the tube it is good for about 2 months.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Healthy Pizza

Perfect Pairing:  Pizza craving… on a diet

Even though I live in the third largest city in America which is chock full of good restaurants that deliver to your doorstep, I rarely order food for delivery.  I love the concept, but I am intimidated by it at the same time, as ridiculous as that sounds.  I grew up in the country where not even the local Pizza Hut would deliver.  The thought of having food brought to your door was exotic!  I have lived in Chicago for almost 7 years and I can count on one hand how many times I have had food delivered.  I think I get overwhelmed by the amount of places and choices.  Often, if I have a craving for something I buy the groceries to make it myself. 
I don’t want to knock the famous deep dish Chicago pizza, because it is really something to appreciate, but I prefer thin crust.  I love to make thin crust pizza on homemade or even store-bought pizza crust, but this particular version is made using Flat Out Wraps.  I love these things.  I usually get the light versions which have about 90 calories, 2.5 grams of fat and 9 grams of fiber each. 
The Perfect Pairing for this Healthy Pizza concept is a pizza craving… while on a diet.  I am not promising that this healthy version is going to replace restaurant pizza forever but it does a great job of satisfying a pizza craving!  The crust is crispy and tastes great with any of your favorite pizza toppings.
I started using Flat Out Wraps years ago but it took me a few attempts before I figured out the best way to use them for pizza crust.  The key is to toast the wrap first, before you put on your toppings.  Here is what I do….
·         Preheat your oven to 415 degrees F
·         Spray both sides of the wrap with cooking spray and place on a baking sheet
·         I like to sprinkle a little garlic salt on the wrap before toasting it
·         Toast in the oven for about 6-7 minutes or until it starts to brown around the edge. It should look like this…

After the wrap is toasted I top it with my favorite ingredients.  This time I used pizza sauce, a sprinkle of garlic powder and red pepper flakes, sautéed chicken sausage, caramelized onions, and reduced fat mozzarella.  I put it back in the oven for about 6 minutes until the cheese is melted.  I topped it off with arugula after it came out of the oven.  Even with all of that good stuff loaded on top it is still crispy.  Proof….

Monday, October 10, 2011

Spicy Quinoa, Tomato, Spinach and Chicken Sausage Soup

Perfect Pairing:  Simple Parmesan Pepper Herb Croissants
I apologize for the long-winded name for this soup.  I tried to come up with something snappy, but kept coming back to Spicy Quinoa, Tomato, Spinach and Chicken Sausage Soup.  While it is an informative title it is not overly exciting!  I also tried to shorten it by taking out some of the ingredients but kept putting them back because I think they are all equally important.  This soup is light and tasty and full of healthy ingredients.
If you have not cooked with quinoa you should definitely give it a try.  I have been eating quinoa for a few years and I am a huge fan.  It is a true power food.  Apparently it is a recently rediscovered grain that was once a staple for the Incas.  It is a complete protein meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids.  It is full of fiber, gluten free and delicious.  I use it like rice or pasta, and cook it in reduced sodium chicken broth, which adds a lot of flavor.  I will undoubtedly be posting more quinoa recipes in the future. 
This recipe also features another one of my favorite ingredients, chicken sausage.  For this soup I used the Amylu Andouille variety, which are all natural and pork free.  They are just 100 calories each and full of flavor.  There are so many different varieties available like apple and gouda, spinach and feta, sundried tomato and basil, etc.  I keep these on hand in the freezer to add to soups, stir fry, or to heat on the grill.
The Perfect Pairing for this soup is a Simple Parmesan Pepper Herb Croissant.  I used one container of reduced fat crescent rolls, some fresh herbs I had on hand, and freshly ground black pepper to make these.  I unrolled the triangles of dough, cracked some pepper, topped it with 2 Tb freshly grated parmesan and ½ teaspoon of chopped fresh herbs.  I used thyme and rosemary since I had them on hand.  Roll up the dough, top them off with a little more pepper and bake according to the package instructions.  The cheese and herbs add a ton of flavor and make them extra pretty.  This used up all of my parmesan, and all I had left was the rind.  I tossed the cheese rind into the soup pot to add some extra flavor.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Light Pumpkin Cheesecakes

Perfect Pairing:  Whipped topping

This is one of my favorite fall recipes.  These single serving cheesecakes have a great pumpkin flavor and they are light.  Bonus!  The original recipe came from WeightWatchers but I have adapted it a bit.  I am sure it could be made in a pie plate rather than the ramekins but I like the idea of individual servings.  I put all of the dishes on a cookie sheet so they are easy to take in and out of the oven.
A few years ago there was a shortage of canned pumpkin.  Perhaps I am the only one that remembers this, but it really put a wrinkle in my pumpkin cooking plans!  I just saw an article online saying that there could be a 2011 pumpkin shortage.  I am not saying you should fill your pantry with pumpkin, but it does keep for a long time!
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is a dollop of whipped topping.  Yum.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Spicy Coconut Lentil Soup

Perfect Pairing:  Hand chopper
I am a huge fan of soup, especially during fall and winter.  As soon as I feel that first cool breeze of fall I start thinking of simmering pots of chili, soup and stews.  I will be sharing a lot of my favorite fall soup recipes here throughout the season.  This Spicy Coconut Lentil Soup made a great, light, mid-week dinner.  It was easy to make, full of flavor, and it made my house smell quite inviting.  It has some exotic flavors like chile peppers, coconut milk and ginger but was still very comforting.   I will say that it was a hard subject to photograph! 
The Perfect Pairing for this soup recipe is the popular hand chopper.  Mine is from Pampered Chef.  I personally enjoy chopping and dicing but sometimes I am just not in the mood, especially if I just want to move things along.  I used the hand chopper for the fresh ginger, garlic and chiles in this recipe.  I peeled the ginger and garlic and chopped them together.  I seeded the peppers, sliced into chunks, and finished them off with the hand chopper.  Chop chop!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Jalapeno Basil Cornbread

Perfect Pairing:  Chicken Chili
Everyone loves cornbread!  It's hard to go wrong.  Even the boxed versions are pretty decent!  If you have some extra time, and are not feeling like the boxed variety is going to cut it, you may enjoy this homemade version.  This recipe has a slightly sweet flavor but it also has some great ingredients like buttermilk (to keep it really moist), fresh basil, frozen corn, and jalapeno peppers.  This version is a bit denser than the standard variety but is really tasty.
I have made a few different versions of jalapeno cornbread but this is the first time I have added basil.  I really liked the flavor combination and will definitely be doing that again.  I love having a basil plant on my patio where I can snip fresh basil for recipes.  Unfortunately, I don’t get a lot of sun on my patio and my plants do not exactly thrive.  I am going to go ahead and blame it on the lack of sun.  At this point in the season people are usually making pesto because their basil plants are full and it would take a hundred caprese salads to use up all of the leaves.  Me, not so much.  This recipe pretty much depleted my basil.  Look at this sad little guy….

The Perfect Pairing for this cornbread is the Chicken Chili recipe I posted here.  The slightly sweet flavor of the cornbread was a great compliment to the spicy soup. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Overnight Cornbread Strata

Perfect Pairing:  Cilantro, avocado, green onions and sour cream

When my family entertains we are always looking for an easy breakfast recipe that will serve a crowd.  It's a bonus if it can be done ahead of time so there are no sleepy eyes trying to read a recipe.  This strata recipe is a great breakfast that is made the night before so all you have to do is put it in the oven the next morning.  It smells so great baking, it will wake everyone up!
A strata is a layered casserole that usually contains bread, eggs and cheese.  This particular recipe uses cornbread which adds a slightly sweet flavor.  You could use leftover cornbread, if you have it on hand, or you can quickly make up a boxed version.  I used the Krusteaz Fat Free Honey Cornbread mix and it worked really well.  It baked up fluffy and light.
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is a combination of toppings like green onions, avocados, cilantro and sour cream.  The strata is great on its own but these accompaniments add another layer of fresh flavor.
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