Thursday, September 27, 2012

Smoked Salmon Breakfast

Perfect Pairing:  Large tray and assorted containers

One of my all-time favorite breakfasts is a bagel with cream cheese and lox, or smoked salmon.  My family often puts this out at the holidays. 
Recently I was trying to come up with a breakfast that would be easy to take out on the boat, and decided to change up our standard bagel/cream cheese/lox variation by including a few additional toppings.  It ended up being one of the best breakfasts I have had in a long time, if I do say so myself.  Granted, it didn’t hurt that I was on the boat with my parents and some of my great girlfriends on a gorgeous morning.  Oh, there was also champagne.  That definitely didn’t hurt.
You can make this breakfast according to your tastes and what you have on hand, but this is what I included

 I like a little bit of everything on my toast. 

The Perfect Pairing for this salmon breakfast is a large tray with assorted containers.  It was great to be able to transport the entire breakfast on one tray, and the presentation was very attractive.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Strawberry Pie

Perfect Pairing:  Whipped cream or Cool Whip

Summer is officially over.  Hey, I’m the first person to say that I love crisp fall weather, sweaters, football, and all things pumpkin, but I am going to miss summer.  It is my favorite season for so many reasons. 
It really started to feel like fall this weekend around Chicago.  I went to a Cubs game on Saturday and it was not exactly pleasant baseball-viewing weather.  Yesterday was a perfect fall day with bright sunshine.  I spent the day watching my niece and nephews play soccer.  I saw a lot of kids that looked like me when I played soccer at five years old.  My skills included tracking butterflies, picking flowers/weeds, and scoring goals for the other team.  Soccer is not my sport.  Fortunately, it looks like my niece and nephews are not taking after their aunt.

You can bring back a little bit of that summer loving with this strawberry pie.  Have one last summer hurrah before you start celebrating fall with pumpkin or apple pie.  Strawberry pie is so easy and delicious.  My family likes it even more the following day.
I would recommend using my grandma’s famous “Press, no mess, pie crust” recipe for the crust.  It is truly the best homemade crust.  It is made right in the pie plate, no rolling pins needed.

The Perfect Pairing for Strawberry Pie is whipped cream or Cool Whip.  Clearly, homemade whipped cream is the preferred choice but if you want to cut a few corners you could use Cool Whip, chemicals and all.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Candied Bacon, Tomato and Avocado Sandwich

Perfect Pairing – Summer tomatoes

It is hard to improve on a classic like a BLT, but I think this sandwich knocks the original out of the park. 
I replaced the lettuce with mashed avocado.  Be sure to season the avocado generously with salt and pepper.  You may have to test it out on a chip to make sure the seasoning is just right!
I have found that the best way to cook bacon is in the oven.  I line a baking sheet with foil and top with a cooling rack.  Using the cooking rack ensures that the bacon is not cooking in grease.  Clean-up is easy, just toss the foil away with the drained grease.   I really love the combination of sweet and salty so instead of regular bacon I used candied bacon.  It sounds fancy but it is really just adding a sprinkle of brown sugar before it goes in the oven. 

Speaking of bacon, apparently an actor is trying it out as a new currency.  Who knows, people do love bacon.  I wonder if the value would go up if he candies it.
The Perfect Pairing for this sandwich is summer’s final tomatoes.  Hopefully you can still find some sun-warmed tomatoes at a farmers market or your neighbor’s garden. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

All Purpose Breakfast Casserole

Perfect Pairing:  Texas Toast
I recently had about 15 people to my house for breakfast.  No big deal, just get up early and knock it all out.  Right?  Well the night before the breakfast I had a bachelorette party.  I knew I would want to stay in bed as long as I could the next morning.  To accomplish this, I needed to do as much prep as possible the day before the breakfast. 
I was one of the last ones standing at the party.  Make that limping.  Why do we wear such uncomfortable shoes?  Why did I not put flip flops in my purse like some of the other girls?  We ended the night at a packed taco joint in Lincoln Park around 2 AM.  Good stuff.
Needless to say, it was a very good thing I planned ahead.  I loved every last minute in bed that next morning.  The only thing I had to do to these casseroles on the day of the breakfast was top them with cheese and toss them in the oven.
Everyone needs a good breakfast casserole in their recipe arsenal.  I really like this recipe because you can make it to your tastes.  I made two versions, one with sausage and cheddar cheese and a vegetarian version with spinach, mushrooms, and fontina cheese.  While they were both great, I was surprised to find out that the vegetarian version was the favorite!

The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is Texas Toast, or thick sliced bread.  You could certainly use regular bread in this recipe but I like using thicker variety.  I think it soaks up the egg mixture better than thin bread and adds a nice texture to the casserole.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Un-Recipe Files - Farmers Market Chicken


One of my favorite things about living in a city like Chicago are the random adventures that you just fall into without any planning or research.  Whether it is going for a walk and stopping at a bar for a drink that turns into dinner and a new favorite hangout, or ending up on the end of Navy Pier listening to a live salsa band.  Those are the moments that remind me why I love this city and why I put up with the traffic, costs, and hassle of urban living.
I had one of those experiences a few weeks ago on a Sunday morning.  I was looking for a new brunch spot and saw Jam in Logan Square listed on Yelp.   It had good reviews so we gave it a shot.  The restaurant was a modern gem on a historic boulevard.  It was an amazingly beautiful summer morning and we got a table outside on the sidewalk.  While we enjoyed our mouth-watering brunch we watched vendors setting up a farmers market across the street.  I had already mentally purchased two bags of produce before stepping foot in the market.
We wandered around checking out the stalls and chatting with the vendors.  Everyone was friendly and totally eclectic.  The displays were beautiful.

I walked out with a crazy assortment of treasures including beets, tomatoes, peaches, green beans, herbed cheese, and walnut bread.  I had absolutely no plans for any of it but was pretty pleased with my purchases.
The resulting dinner was fresh and delicious and the chicken was a definite repeat.  This is what I did.
  • I marinated chicken breasts in a mixture of Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar (the cheap stuff), garlic, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper.  I use these ingredients all the time for chicken marinades and it always comes out great.  Someday I will write down exact measurements but that just has not happened yet.
  • I brushed thick slices of red onion with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.  I grilled the slices until softened and slightly charred.
  • While the chicken and onions were grilling I halved multi-colored grape tomatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper and stirred in sliced fresh basil.  Once the onions were done I chopped them up and added them to the tomatoes.
  • Serve the chicken with a healthy spoonful of tomatoes and a drizzle of balsamic (the really good stuff).

Monday, September 10, 2012

Southwest Salad

Perfect Pairing:  Makeshift salad spinner

I have been making this family favorite for years, most likely never the exact same way twice.  It is one of my favorite summer lunches for a crowd.
You can add or subtract ingredients based on what you have on hand.  Replace the cheddar cheese with pepper jack or Monterey jack, fresh/frozen/canned corn all work, red onion instead of green onions, squeeze of fresh lime juice on top, etc.  If you really want to get fancy you can grill the green onions, which is something I love to do.  Just coat them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Just a few minutes on the grill and it completely changes the flavor.  I first had them like this in Mexico and was hooked.
For this version of the salad I marinated the chicken in taco sauce, which is easy and tasty, but you could also use taco seasoning as a dry rub. 
I am not a fan of fat free dressings. They just taste like chemicals to me.  In fact, I rarely buy store-bought dressings.  I prefer to make my own with olive oil, Dijon, honey, and assorted vinegars.  That kind of dressing did not work for this salad so I came up with something different.  I mix salsa with regular or light ranch dressing.  I use a ratio of 3 to 1, in favor of salsa.  This keeps the calories and fat way down and adds a nice spicy kick.
The Perfect Pairing for this salad is a makeshift salad spinner.   I have little to no patience when it comes to drying produce after washing it.  I know it is a simple thing but, my gosh, I dislike it.  I put that in the same category as putting away my laundry, picking up/sorting my mail, and filing papers at work.  All extremely easy tasks but I have an aversion.  Another thing I dislike is soggy salads, so this can cause a dilemma if I don’t feel like towel drying my freshly washed lettuce.  Enter the makeshift salad spinner! 
 That is my cousin’s husband, Mark, using a clean pillow case (keyword, clean) to dry lettuce.  Just shake off any excess water from freshly washed lettuce and toss into the pillow case.  Take it outside and spin the heck out of it.  Voila!  Dry lettuce and, let’s face it, a pretty good time.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Zucchini Banana Chocolate Chip Walnut Bread

Perfect Pairing:  Small loaf pans for sharing

My parents are in the final stages of building a house on our beloved lake, Oak Run.  I am so excited for them, and so excited to enjoy their new home.  I can’t wait to cook in the new kitchen!  Stay tuned for pictures.
Their wonderful new neighbors, Mark and Denise, have a bountiful garden and have given us some great produce this summer.  Recently Mark dropped off a large zucchini, a very large zucchini. 
My mom and I decided we should use it in a bread recipe.  We had some bananas on their way out so we wanted to use those as well.  Why not add chocolate and walnuts as well?  I did a quick search and came across this recipe on Noshings.  I made it exactly as the recipe instructed and it was perfect.  I can safely say it was the best zucchini or banana bread I have ever tried.  Thank you Noshings for sharing this fantastic recipe!

The recipe calls for two cups of shredded zucchini.  I started shredding the veggie with a box grater and realized that was going to be time consuming and potentially dangerous for my fingers.  I ended up using the food processor, which was so much easier. 
The Perfect Pairing for Zucchini Banana Chocolate Chip Walnut Bread is small loaf pans for sharing.  Anyone would love receiving this delicious bread (if it can even be called that seeing as it tastes like dessert)!  I used one large and two small loaf pans for this recipe.  We brought one of the loaves to Mark and Denise to thank them for all of the delicious produce.  My mom even “foofed” it up for them.  She is the queen of foof. 

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