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OK, peeps.

Hang with me here.

I’m about to blow your mind with this pizza.

Even if you are a non-adventurous meat-eatin’ man (I’m talkin’ to you Uncle Doug), I  guarantee you will like this pizza.

And if you don’t, then I’ll tell you that you’re crazy.

I drool over the gorgeous food pictures on FoodGawker nearly every day.

You’ll never see my food on there because I have no clue what I’m doing with a camera. Food and flavor are my focus. Not so much the pics.

But the FoodGawker food is absolutely irresistible, and I seriously want to try a handful of recipes every dang day.

So yesterday, I saw a picture of this pizza and I knew I had to try it.

It was fate because I had all of the ingredients on hand.

This recipe is courtesy of Chris over at The Café Sucré Farine.

It made my eyes pop wide open when I took the first bite.

Drool worthy.

So, this is a pizza that is topped with bacon, chicken, cheese, a balsamic/strawberry glaze, fresh strawberries and cilantro.

Sounds crazy, I know.

But. You. Will. Not. Regret. Making. This.

It has been a while since we have talked about my love affair with bacon. Do not fear.

My love has not waned.

I still love it more than ever.

However, I did try a new brand of Applewood Smoked Bacon from Whole Foods. This bacon is made from non-industrial farmed pigs. So, before these pigs gave their life for us (I know it’s morbid, but c’mon- it’s meat) they lived a happy life on a farm with room to roam. Then, they were killed humanely.

Again, I know that not everyone cares about the things I care about. And that is fine by me.

I’m just sharing my choices and experience.

So, don’t get all high on the hog (ha- get it? hog? bacon? har!) and whateverish with me.

Back to cooking.

Fry your bacon.

Then, drain off some of that fat on paper towels.

Then, eat approximately 4 pieces to make sure the flavor it acceptable.

Yes, it takes at least 4 slices before you can know for sure.

Now, lets make our glaze.

Get out some balsamic vinegar.

And add a quarter cup to a small sauce pan.

Boil that vinegar, then reduce the heat and simmer until the vinegar has reduced by half.

Reducing the vinegar causes some of the liquid to evaporate, and the liquid left in the pan gets a little thicker and syrupy. Yum.

Bust out some strawberry jam or preserves.

Or jelly.

I’m sure jelly would work fine.

Plop a 1/2 c. of the strawberry goodness into your balsamic reduction.

And now, a surprise ingredient.

Some Sriracha!

A little spicy spiciness.

If you don’t have Sriracha, I’m sure any hot sauce would suffice.

Add 1 teaspoon of the hotness to your sauce.

Stir it up until it is all combined.

Set that sauce aside until you need it again.

Now, lets cook some chicken.

If you are a good multi-tasker in the kitchen, you can cook the above sauce and your chicken at the same time.

To cook normal sized chicken breasts, place your pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the breasts fairly generously with salt and pepper.

Cook on each side for approximately 4 minutes.

So, back to my new commitment to responsible eating. If you have a Whole Foods near you, they have a mega pack of chicken breasts that are organic/free range/cold washed. If you buy the bulk package, the price is not that much more than the conventional chicken at other grocery stores.

Ok, lets get our pizza dough ready.

Preheat your oven to 450.

I made my own dough from the recipe on the back of the new Fleischmann’s Pizza Dough yeast packet.

Kroger used to carry these super thin pizza crusts, but they didn’t have them. Boo Kroger!

Trader Joes also carries an uncooked pizza dough for $1.29 that I really like. However, I wasn’t going to run out for one measly pizza dough.

So, I love this next idea. Again, I’m totally stealing this from Chris’s recipe.

She recommends using parchment paper to roll out your pizza dough.

Put down a little cornmeal.

And roll out your pizza dough.

The parchment makes the transfer to the pizza stone so dang easy. I can’t believe I have never done this before.

It made the whole process easier and cleaner.

Yay for parchment paper!

I like to season the dough a bit and cook it a bit before piling on the toppings.

I spread a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Place it on your pizza pan or stone and cook the crust for 4-5 minutes.

While that dough is par-cooking, chop either one large or 2 small chicken breasts.

Chop up 6 slices of bacon.

Chop up 1/4 of a large yellow onion.

Top your chicken with a tablespoon or 2 of the balsamic strawberry glaze.

And use your hands to mix the sauce into the chicken.

Pop a piece into your mouth.

Savor the goodness.

Practice restraint by not downing the chicken before it ever makes it onto the pizza.

Pull your dough out of the oven.

Spread the remaining glaze around the crust.

Spread a cup of shredded Italian cheese across the pizza.

I normally don’t like or use the pre-shredded stuff but I was aiming for ease!

Pile on your chicken, bacon, and onions.

Finish it off with another cup of the shredded cheese. Throw that bad boy into the oven until the cheese is all ooey-gooey-melty.

About 7-8 minutes.

It comes out looking like this.

I could have eaten it just like this.

It smelled so heavenly.

But I wanted the full delightful experience.

So, I sliced up some strawberries and threw them on top. DO NOT skip this step. I promise. It is so so freaking good.

Then, I chopped some green onion and tossed that on top.

The actual recipe calls for cilantro (not green onion), and I was quite sad to discover that I had no cilantro. It would have been perfection.

But the green onion was a perfectly delicious substitute.

I served the pizza with Ina Garten’s Lemon Fusilli with Arugula. So good!

For Ina’s recipe, I used half of the amount of cream and lemon and pasta. And I used double the amount of vegetables.

I’m not big on a super pasta-y pasta salad. Does that make any sense whatsoever?

Anyhow, it was a perfect meal on a perfect Ohio evening enjoyed on the patio.

We ate while Henry soaked in the fresh air in his bouncy seat.

The two ding dongs ran around arguing over the same stick.

A pretty perfect meal, and a pretty perfect evening.

Life is good,

Leah

P.S. Want to see the coolest, most darling gift I received yesterday? My friend, Jess, oozes creativity. And she made this for Henry’s room. I died. It is perfection, and it will be so perfect for his nursery. Thanks Jess!

Sorry, it is an iPhone pic- I’ll share a better pic when it makes it onto the wall.

I am a girl that loves a sandwich.

I am a girl that loves a spicy dish.

I am a girl that tries to eat somewhat healthy.

I am a girl that gets weak in the knees for buffalo sauce.

And I am a girl that stole this marvelous (and somewhat healthy)  recipe for the best Buffalo Chicken Burgers I’ve ever had.

My friend and former boss, Tracy, posted this recipe on Facebook a while back. I promptly made it because she promised that these burgers would be a healthy alternative to the terrible fried goodness of a chicken wing (or a boneless tender, that I prefer).

These burgers seriously deliver. They are so dang good. They are moist and delicious and flavorful and spicy and savory and the list goes on and on.

Now, first I must confess. I didn’t have any ground chicken.

So I used ground turkey instead. I lurrrrrve flexible recipes. You too, non?

This recipe makes 5 burgers.

I started with a 1.2 lb package of ground turkey and a large bowl.

Dump that turkey into the bowl.

Get out some grill seasoning. You’ll need 1 Tablespoon.

I happened to have a Chipotle Rub, and it was spectacular. However, any grill seasoning will do.

Now, Tracy recommends low fat blue cheese to keep the calorie count down in her burgers. If you are watching the waistline, I would encourage you to do the same.

If however, you are wanting a more delicious burger- go for the regular old blue cheese crumbles.

I have a personal aversion to low-fat cheese. It generally tastes bad, and it often strikes me as having a weird consistency.

I also hate low-fat salad dressing, but that is neither here nor there. Just thought you might want to know.

Anywho, add in 1/4 c. of blue cheese crumbles.

And 1/4 c. of Frank’s Red Hot. Or you could use Frank’s Buffalo Sauce.

Seriously, both my husband and I really love Frank’s Red Hot. We should buy stock in the stuff.

I think it makes just about any savory dish better. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. But the stuff does make me quite happy.

Now, grab some Panko breadcrumbs. Do not attempt to substitute regular breadcrumbs in this recipe. You need the extra crunch provided by Panko.

These guys are found in the baking aisle of your grocery store right near the bread crumbs.

Add 3/4 c. of  the Panko to your bowl.

Chop up 1/3 c. of celery and toss it into the bowl.

And now add 1/4 of green onion.

If you don’t have green onions, use some chives like I did.

Bing bong for chives in the garden.

They have saved several dishes for me this summer when I need just a bit of green.

Gently mix all of the above together.

You want to mix the ingredients until they are combined. But don’t over mix the meat because it will get tough.

Five perfect burgers.

Set those burgers aside, and lets make a little blue cheese sauce to top our burgers with when they are cooked.

You’ll need two simple ingredients for the sauce.

First, 1/2 cup of low fat sour cream. Low-fat sour cream is one low-fat option that I can manage to eat. It doesn’t taste all that different from the full fat version to me.

Add 1/4 c. of those blue cheese crumbles to the sour cream and mix it up.

OK!

Let’s cook our burgers.

Before we do, I think we should follow Tracy’s suggestion to coat the outside in Panko to increase the crunchiness factor.

Those Panko breadcrumbs really do give the burgers that same crispy sensation that a fried tender or wing has.

Put a non-stick skillet over a medium flame to preheat.

I wanted to grill these burgers, but we only have a charcoal grill (I personally could never go gas- I love the charcoal flavor).

The downside of charcoal; however, is that if you are making a late dinner grilling sometimes is not an option.

Because, you know, it takes for-e-ver to heat up.

Enough about my woes.

Put a little olive oil in the pan.

And put your burgers into the pan.

After about 4-5 minutes, give them a flip.

Let them cook on the second side for another 4-5 minutes.

If you want to kick up the heat factor, baste those burgers with a little more red hot sauce.

Pull those burgers off of the pan, and start building your sandwich.

I put our burgers on a whole wheat crusty piece of bread.

And then I topped them with the blue cheese sauce, some tomato, and some sliced cucumbers.

Served up with a simple cucumber salad (can you tell that we were out of lettuce?) and a little fruit salad.

It will knock your socks off.

Want to see what my worthless sous chefs were up to?

Well, this one was at least in the kitchen… but she was just hoping for scraps:

Lola couldn’t bother to come inside. She was either sunbathing or keeping guard of the tomato plant:

And finally… this guy.

So far, Henry has been a real disappointment in the kitchen. He doesn’t help me out at all. Good thing he makes up for it with his extreme cuteness:

My guy’s hair makes my life.

Happy Tuesday!

XO,
Leah

Grill baby, Grill.

I love grilling when it is a billion degrees outside, and the thought of turning on the oven or stove is laughable.

I am a firm believer in the charcoal grill. I think it conjures up way more flavor than gas.

The downside of the charcoal grill is obvious… you must plan ahead a bit since it takes so long for the coals to get ready.

But it is worth it my friends, it is worth it.

I am also a firm believer that just about anything can be grilled.

Meat.

Veggies (some of my faves include asparagus, zucchini, onions, potatoes, etc).

Fruit (any stone fruit- peaches, plums, etc. or pineapple).

Breads.

This week, we grilled a pizza. A barbecue chicken pizza to be exact.

And not to toot my own horn, but it was freaking awesome. Toot! Toot!

This recipe was inspired by a gift from the in-laws. They brought us back a dry rub and a bottle of barbecue sauce from a favorite place in Florida.

We have been patiently waiting through snow and rain to bust out these grilling goodies.

I know it is highly unlikely that you will have these particular ingredients, but any grill seasoning and barbecue sauce will do.

We start this recipe by frying up bacon. Nothing wrong with that.

Bacon is one of those ingredients that is better done in a pan than on the grill.

Yes, I have attempted to grill bacon. However, with live flames and grease dripping from bacon- bacon tends to get scorched.

So, I stick with the frying pan.

And by the way, I love a cast iron skillet. Don’t you?

Do you have one?

You need one.

Here is the thing about a cast iron skillet, you don’t really wash it out aggressively with soap and water because it is a very porous pan. So you wipe it down, and the flavor gets trapped in the pan.

Then, whenever you cook something, it has this extra delicious flavor element in the food. It is pretty magical.

Pull out the bacon. And let it set out on paper towels to drain.

Drop in some chopped onion or shallots.

Yep, just drop them into the bacon grease.

Fried onions in bacon grease.

Hello. Lover.

Bacon grease makes everything heart healthy.

OK, that was a lie.

Bacon grease does make everything more delicious. And that counts for something, right?

Chicken tenders.

Cheaper.

Thaws faster (if you are like me, and you store on-sale chicken in your freezer until you need it).

Cooks faster.

Has less weird tendons and whatnot.

Winner, winner, Chicken Tender Dinner.

Give both sides of your chicken a deep tissue massage with your grill seasoning/rub.

 

Set that chicken aside while you get your pizza dough ready.

Now I had a few servings of dough already frozen in my freezer. So, your options for dough- make a big old batch and freeze some.

Or buy a Boboli crust from your grocery store.

Or buy the uncooked pizza dough (I believe is it $1.29) from Trader Joes. It can be found near the cheese and deli meat. This would be my choice if I didn’t have homemade dough.

Give your dough a drizzle of olive oil once it is rolled out.

I also gave mine a little sprinkle of salt and crushed red pepper flake.

To the Grill!!

 

Give your chicken a head start.

With a hot grill, using chicken tenders, I needed about 3 1/2-4 min. per side.

Then, I gave them a flip.

 

Once flipped, I slathered them with the barbecue sauce.

 

And then I threw the raw rolled out dough right on the grill.

Your grill MUST be pretty hot still for this to work. If it is only providing a low heat, you run the risk of your dough oozing through the grill grates. I, personally, have never had this happen.

But it could.

 

Keep slatherin’ that chicken.

 

Don’t feed the bears.

This is our beer opener positioned on the fence right next to the grill.

I’ll give you one guess as to which member of our household purchased this bad boy.

 

After 1-2 minutes, give your dough a flip.

Mmm.

Crusty.

 

Pull all of that off the grill, and head back in to the sanctity of your air conditioned kitchen.

Take stock of everything that you shall pile on your pizza.

From left to right, I have monteray jack and cheddar cheese. I only had a teeny amount of cheddar left, hence the pathetic amount. Pepper jack, colby jack, mozzarella or provolone would all be delicious on this pizza.

Next, I have an avocado to slice up, the grilled onions, chopped bacon, a chopped tomato, some crushed red pepper flake, chopped cilantro, chopped green onion and a little more barbecue sauce.

 

Take the barbecue sauce, and use the sauce as your pizza sauce. Slather it all over.

Chop up your chicken and pile it on your crust with the chopped bacon.

 

Then, pile on all the cheese.

March that pizza back out to your grill for only a minute more to melt the cheese.

 

When it looks like this, pull it off of the grill, bring it inside and finish topping it.

 

Add on the rest of your ingredients.

Wowzer, right?

RIGHT?

 

I recommend using kitchen scissors to cut the pizza. It is slightly easier to manage. Pair the pizza with your pickled cucumber salad and a ripe summer peach.

Grilling makes my life.

It is Friday.

I hope you all have a fabulous weekend!

It is a big weekend in our family… my baby sister graduates from college. We are all so proud of her, and I for one cannot wait to see what is next for her.

Our niece also turns one on Sunday. There will be a party and presents and a cake- and a little girl surrounded by love.

Fun stuff all around.

XO,
Leah

 

I think vegetables reach their full potential when they are stuffed.

Holler if you hear me.

Check out this massive zucchini I got at the grocery store- thanks pesticides!

If you are a gardener, zucchini is one of those fruits that does well. So well, that many folks end up with a plethora of these bad boys throughout the summer.

Here is a zucchini fun fact: zucchini is actually an immature fruit (not vegetable), being the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower. Doesn’t that sound appetizing?

In this culinary context, zucchini is a vegetable.

And I don’t care what you say about that.

Preheat your oven to 425.

Anywho, start by chopping off the head and tail of this zucchini.

Then take off a little tiny sliver of the side of the vegetable, so that it will lay flat to be stuffed and to bake.

Slice her open.

And scrape out her guts.

Give the hollowed out inside a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Pop those into the oven- either straight on to the rack or onto a small sheet pan- while you prepare the stuffing.

The zucchini needs to cook for 15-25 minutes. The time varies by the size of the zucchini. The zucchini I had was about 10 inches long and it took a total of 20 minutes to cook (about 10 without the filling and 10 with the filling).

Pull out a non-stick pan.

Put it over a burner on medium-high heat.

And add in some olive oil.

Once the olive oil is heated, toss in some onion. For one large zucchini (serving 2 people), use 1/4 of a white, yellow or red onion.

Or if you are feeling crazy, like I clearly was, you can use 3 small shallots.

To the shallots or onions, add two finely diced or crushed cloves of garlic.

If you are ever invited to a Pampered Chef party, invest in a garlic crusher (seen below). Pampered Chef makes the best version out there (believe me… I have tried a few), and it keeps you and your hands from smelling like a hoagie for the next day.

I consider the garlic to be cooked when the aroma fills the kitchen.

DO NOT overcook the garlic. You know it is overcooked if it starts to turn brown. Overcooked garlic tastes really bitter and is nasty.

To the onion and garlic, add some chopped tomato.

I used two medium sized vine-ripened tomatoes for my zucchini.

Keep the tomato in the pan for about 2 minutes. That is long enough to warm the tomatoes through, and it is long enough that some of those extra tomato juices evaporate away.

After 2-3 minutes, add in 1 T. of vinegar. I prefer balsamic.

Side note: I hope you know this, but when I use a lowercase t. – that means teaspoon. And when I use an uppercase T.- that means tablespoon. I probably should have clarified that about a year ago. Oopsie.

Stir it all around, and let those flavors get to know one another.

Now, grab your preheated zucchinis and place them on a small foil-lined sheet pan.

Hmmmmm….. looks like something is missing.

What could it be?

What could it be?

Oh yes.

Cheese, of course!

Get creative here. I popped on some goat cheese because goat cheese makes my life.

But you could use mozzarella, parmesan, or even pepper jack. Maybe I would shy away from cheddar, but mostly I don’t think you could go wrong here with any cheese choice.

Since my zucchini had already cooked 10 of the 20 minutes, I threw these guys back into the oven for another 10 minutes.

I should mention that these guys also taste awesome on a grill. Especially a charcoal, smoky grill.

I love grillin’ season.

After the last 10 minutes of baking time, the zucchini came out looking like this.

And yes, they taste as good as they look.

And they taste like summer!

I hope everyone is having the most wonderful week.

XO,
Leah

French food is not something that I know much about.

Let’s see… my French culinary repertoire includes:

1. French Onion Soup

2. French Fries

3. Brie all melty and gooey and spread on a cracker

4. Chicken Cordon Bleu

And I’m not sure how French any of those dishes really are.

I have never been to France, but I did take four years of French.

My French speaking skills are now limited to asking, “May I go to the bathroom, please?”

Yes, folks. Four years of French, and that is what I have to show for it. Pathetic, non? (Oh wait, “non” is French. I guess I have TWO phrases to show for my French education).

My biggest French accomplishment was finishing the novel Les Miserables… in French. I wouldn’t say that I “read” the book, as much as I sat with the book and my French/English dictionary and translated it.

Growing up, Chicken Cordon Bleu was a regular meal in our household. I did not know that it was French, nor did I care. For, it was delicious… and that is all that really matters.

Chicken Cordon Bleu is the PERFECT make ahead meal, and it is the perfect meal to gift someone with. Who doesn’t like white meat chicken stuffed with cheese and salty ham? I mean, c’mon!

So, last weekend I whipped up a quick batch of Chicken Cordon Bleu. This is most certainly not my recipe, but I also can’t give credit to anyone for this recipe. It is just a good old classic.

You don’t need much to make this dish… just the following:

-Chicken breasts

-Gruyere cheese (if you want classic french), but swiss works too and is cheaper

-Ham

-Eggs, all whisked up

-1 c. of breadcrumbs (I like panko) mixed with 1/2 t. salt and 1/2 t. pepper and 1/2 t. thyme

Let’s commence shall we?

Oui?

Oui.

Flour your counter or a cutting board, and give your chicken breasts a good coating of flour.

Now, pound your chicken meat.

Use lots of flour so that you don’t tear the flesh, and keep on pounding until the breast is nice and thin.

This is a great recipe to make when you need to work out some aggression. Seriously, pounding all of that chicken is very therapeutic.

Once all of the chicken is pounded, set it aside and lets get out our ham and cheese, and the cheese grater.

Grate your cheese, and pile it onto your cutting board.

Get out one slice of ham for each chicken breast.

And put about 1/4 c. (for 6-8 breasts) of your favorite mustard in a bowl.

I do declare that it is time to build our Cordon Bleus!

Lay out a flattened chicken breast.

And give it a good slather of that mustard.

I used a bourbon honey mustard. Um, yum.

Then, gently… ever so gently, top the chicken and mustard with a single slice of ham.

Now top that off with a generous handful of the cheese.

This dish is actually difficult for me to pull off in some ways. Because I end up with these raw-chicken hands. And then I’m touching grated cheese. And it is all that I can do to restrain myself from shoving some of that contaminated cheese into my mouth.

But I cry out for restraint, and somehow restraint finds me.

Ah-men.

Roll ‘er up.

And stick it on a plate. If some of the cheese come out of the bottom, don’t worry about it. It happens.

Keep going until you have all of your chicken rolled.

Time to coat those bad boys.

Crack two eggs into a bowl.

And give them a whisk.

In a separate bowl, combine your breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, and thyme.

And mix that together.

Delicately take one chicken breast and lay it on the plate.

Whisper phrases like “bonjour” and “c’est tout” and “au bon pain” to it.

And slather on some of that whisked egg.

The whisked egg sticks to the flour. And the bread crumb mixture will stick to your egg.

Like magic.

Coat the entire roll with your breadcrumb topping.

And repeat until you are done.

Folks, it is as easy as that.

At this point, if you are planning on consuming the chicken immediately,  you can pop these guys into the oven for 30 min. at 350.

If you are storing these for another day, simply wrap each breast tightly in some plastic wrap.

Then store these guys in  your freezer for up to 3 months.

When you are ready to eat them, pop the breasts into your fridge for 24 hours to defrost the chicken.

Then simply toss them onto a sheet pan and into the oven. 350 for 30 minutes.

French perfection.

Want to know who wants some french perfection?

This girl.

She knows a good thing when she smells it.

Au revoir mes amies,

Leah

Ever had a week that makes you feel like this?

Yeah, that has been my week. It has felt long and busy, but productive and good. So, by today I’m feeling just a little loopy.

And I’m extremely grateful for the weekend arriving just in time.

So, on this Friday, I declare that we need to carb up for the weekend.

And we need to carb up to celebrate the royal wedding.

So, without further ado I give you Spicy Vodka Cream Gnocchi Cheesy Bake. I think I need to work on my recipe names.

This stuff is good.

Eating gnocchi is like consuming little magical pasta pillows. Er… something.

Let’s get started. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Start with a large non-stick skillet over medium heat.

Put a good amount (2 T) of olive oil in the pan.

While that heats up, chop up an onion. I used  medium white onion, but you can use whatever kind of onion you happen to have on hand.

Drop that onion into your skillet.

And let it soften for 3-4 minutes. We don’t want it to get too browned, so it if it is starting to brown that means your heat is too high. Just turn it down a bit and let that onion go.

Add in 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic. And mix it all up to make sure everything is coated in the olive oil.

There is nothing that smells as delicious to me as a little onion and garlic in a hot pan. MMMMMM.

Now, we shall crank up the heat.

I love spicy food.

So, I used a generous teaspoon of crushed red pepper flake. If you don’t like the heat, you can use as little as 1/4 t. of crushed red pepper. Just enough to add a bit of background flavor without adding any of the burn that I crave.

Now add in 1 t. of oregano.

And stir that all together.

And now we get to the good stuff.

Vodka.

Hello lover.

Pour 1 cup of vodka into a measuring cup.

Then add that vodka carefully to your skillet. If you cook over an open flame like I do on my gas range, please be extra careful. I don’t want to be the cause of singed eyebrows from the vodka flaring up.

I’m sure you know this, but heating alcohol to 173 degrees or hotter (basically when it starts boiling) will cook all of the alcohol out of the recipe, so you don’t have to worry about eating this and getting all boozed up eating this food.

Allow the vodka to reduce, until the sauce starts to look more translucent and thicker.

Get out a 28 oz. can of tomatoes. I prefer the whole tomatoes, but you can used diced if you like. I wouldn’t used crushed tomatoes for this recipe, because the texture of the tomato adds to the overall dish.

I personally love San Marzano tomatoes- these can usually be found in the Italian Foods section of the grocery store. They are not next to the hundreds of canned tomato options in the canned goods aisle at my store.

They are about double the price of regular tomatoes, but they are sweeter and less acidic and decidedly more delicious.

If you choose to use canned whole tomatoes like me, you get to participate in a fun step in this recipe.

The ceremonial crushing of the tomatoes. This allows you the perfect opportunity to work out some stresses from the week. Grab a tomato and crush it to smithereens in your hand. Continue until all of your tomatoes are crushed up and in the pan.

Give that a stir.

And then a generous sprinkling of salt (1/2 t.) and pepper (1/4 t.).

Stir that up.

Now, for the cream.

1/2 c. of the full fat goodness. Please don’t skimp here. 1/2 cup of cream will be spread out between 8 servings, so don’t worry about the fat or calories.

Think only of the glorious flavor.

Your sauce is done, so after giving it a stir turn the heat to low. And lets cook our gnocchi.

My grocery store carries fresh gnocchi from time-to-time. If they have it, I usually find it in the Italian Foods section with other fresh pasta and tortellinis.

If they don’t have a fresh option, do not fear!

March on over to the frozen aisles.

Head down the aisle that has garlic bread and frozen lasagnas. There you should find a bag of frozen gnocchi.

Pick it up. Give thanks. Plop it in your cart.

You’ll never look back.

At home, drop your gnocchi into boiling water for approximately 3 minutes. This is enough time to cook the gnocchi through without having it turn to mush.

Drain the water off, and add your gnocchi to your sauce.

Stir that up and transfer all of it to a baking dish.

This one is a 6″ x 9″- I know that is an odd size, but a larger dish would work. Or a smaller square dish should work too.

Now, we need cheese.

Because let’s be honest. What pasta dish isn’t better with cheese?

I used a mixture of sliced fresh mozzarella and crumbled goat cheese.

Fresh mozzarella melts infinitely better than that weird shredded stuff that comes in a bag. Go for the fresh! It is found either with your cheeses in the dairy section or in the specialty cheese section found near the deli.

I love the addition of goat cheese to for a little extra bite.

If you don’t groove on the goat, try a sprinkle of parmesan instead. It has a more intense, fruity, and salty flavor than the mozz and it will be a perfect compliment.

Pop that bad boy in your 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.

The goal is to get the cheese to be ooey and gooey and melty.

I used a little fresh basil from my garden on top.

Perfection.

Both Brad and The Pioneer Woman know the guy who writes the This is Reverb blog, and I found the recipe for his  Dutch Oven Bread. It was super simple to make, and it was a perfectly delicious compliment to this carb-o-rific meal.

Serve it up with a big green salad.

Your life shall never be the same.

Have the best weekend.

XO,
Leah

I witnessed a murder on Monday.

It was done in cold blood. And I’m serious when I say it was right in front of my eyes.

This story is not for the faint of heart, but I feel it my duty to share with you the nitty gritty details.

I had Lola on a leash, and we were taking a leisurely stroll when we were both distracted by something on the ground.

Her hound nose was instantly drawn to it, and I feared it was a dead animal. Dogs LOVE dead animals for some reason. Specifically, my dogs love to roll in them. I have heard that this is because of their carnivore instincts- rolling in a dead animal masks their own dog smell making it easier for dogs to hunt their prey.

If you have ever been around a dog that has rolled in death, you know the scent… it is a scent to be avoided.

So, as Lola pulls herself toward the mysterious scent on the ground, I am trying desperately to pull her away from it.

Then, it happened.

In a split second, Lola dove nose first into what turned out not to be a dead animal, but rather, a mouse nest.

And she pulled out a live mouse.

She chomped on it in front of my eyes and the mouse let out a sound like a dog squeaky toy.

And I let out a noise like I was being mauled by a bear.

And boy, did that get Lola excited.

I freaked out. And that is the understatement of the century. I screamed for Brad even though he was not anywhere within earshot. Lola was so proud of her new squeaky toy that she was running after me trying desperately to show me her treasure up close. I, in turn, was trying to run away from her. However, I couldn’t risk dropping the leash and having her run off into the street.

So, somehow I get all tangled up in the leash and end up on my rear end on the very wet pavement scooting backwards still trying to avoid the now dead mouse being dropped in my lap.

In the midst of my flailing around on the ground, I skinned my elbow.

Eventually, I found my way to my feet.

Lola dropped the mouse. Apparently, she was over it.

And I spent a good five minutes looking around to insure that no one saw the hot mess called Leah. Seriously, my reaction was totally ridiculous. You would have thought that Lola had a live rattlesnake in her mouth.

Wowzer.

So, after she dropped the mouse, we simply walked on.

But, the experience was highly traumatic. That poor little mouse. I keep thinking it was probably just having a lovely nap in it’s nest fully protected from the rain, when it’s murderer came upon it and snuffed out it’s life. I just keep hoping the poor mouse wasn’t a mama mouse that was in the middle of feeding her babies. Those poor mouse babies will need serious therapy some day if so.

I don’t especially care for mice. However, that little guy seemed to be minding his (or her) own business in a grassy area in his own little nest. And now he is chewed up and spit up on the sidewalk. And somehow I have a skinned elbow because of it.

So, today…

In honor of all of the fallen mice everywhere…

Mice that went looking for warmth in a person’s home and met the dreaded mouse trap, mice that tried to cross a street and met with a cars tires, or mice that were minding their own business and met a nosy hound that turned them into a squeaky plaything…

I shall share with you a dish that is my favorite… and I’m certain it would be a mouse’s favorite.

I give you cheese.

Specifically, brie.

This recipe will make you the star of any party from here on out. It is the easiest thing in the world to make, and it goes like hotcakes (actually, do hotcakes really go all that fast?) at any gathering.

And honestly, it isn’t really even a recipe. It is 3 ingredients piled together. So, this one is an easy one my friends.

First, get out a really tacky disposable tin baking dish like the one pictured below.

Don’t judge me.

I was going for easy clean up here.

Seriously, buy a wheel of brie.

Choose the size you need based on the number of people that will be partaking. I bought only a small wheel because I was making this for four people.

Unwrap your brie, and drink in it’s glorious goodness.

I chose a double cream brie.

Sweet sassy molassey.

Now, I carefully turn my wheel o’ brie on it’s side to carefully slice off the waxy top. This is not a necessary step, but it makes the cheese retrieval much easier. Plus, I don’t really groove on the waxy flavor.

Just be careful to not remove the ooey gooey good stuff on the inside.

Here the brie is sitting in my fine china awaiting the next step.

Don’t worry if there are bits of waxiness left on top. It doesn’t matter in the least.

This is the step where we move from not-so-bad for ya to downright naughty.

Take some butter and spread it across the top of your brie.

I use the same amount of butter I would use to butter a piece of toast.

Get out a bag of light brown sugar.

And go from naughty to downright sinful.

Pile some of that brown sugar on top of your buttered brie.

Now, here comes the magic.

Pop that brie into the oven. Whenever I make this, there is usually something else cooking in the oven. So I throw the cheese in at whatever temp. The goal is to melt the cheese. So, at 400 it takes about 10 minutes. At 300, it takes about 20 minutes.

And here is the magic… when you are pregnant, you are told to avoid soft cheeses. Why? Well, the bacteria listeria of course. What you actually have to avoid is unpasteurized cheese- and those are actually pretty difficult to find in America. However, if you do happen upon an unpasteurized brie… it doesn’t even matter for this recipe. Because you are going to get the cheese so hot that if there were any listeria living in there- it will be killed by the heat.

Yay for that.

This is what the brie looks like in all of it’s glory after baking away.

Because the cheese is so rich and sweet, I like to serve it with a good sturdy and grainy cracker.

Here I have Whole Grain Wheat Thins, and they may just be the perfect accompaniment.

I had to taste test one (or 50) of these.

Truly, melt in your mouth delicious.

This is the perfect appetizer for a date night with your special someone- simply buy a smaller wedge of brie- or it is perfect for the biggest party of the year. Or, you could serve it up to your favorite mouse.

I promise that you will not go home with leftovers. Ever.

Yes, it is that good.

So, I leave you with that.

Happy Tuesday to people and mice everywhere.

XO,

Leah

Hi peeps!

It is Friday.

And tomorrow is Bradley’s birthday.

And those two facts make me quite happy.

I’ve been on the road a bit this week. Thus, I have been a very bad blogger.

But, I’m baaaaaaaaack!

And today, I’m talking barbecue. And calzones.

Yep.

You heard me right.

Lets get started, shall we?

Preheat your oven to 375.

Get some chicken.

Two large chicken breasts make two large calzones.

Get out a non-stick pan, and put some oil into the pan over medium-high heat.

Do you have chipotle chile powder?

It is chile powder made from smoked chiles.

If you don’t have the chipotle chile powder, don’t fret!

You can use plain ole chili powder.

I won’t judge you.

Much.

Give your chicken breasts a healthy coating of chili powder, a sprinkle of salt, and a dusting of pepper.

Now drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil onto the chicken breasts, and give your oil and spices a good rub.

Pop those bad boys face-down into your heated pan.

Warning: You may experience some coughing or a runny nose from the heat hitting the chili powder.

Sorry bout that.

If the weather is nice, I would recommend doing the cooking portion on the grill. However, I made these on a rainy day.

While the first side is cooking (for about 5 min), give the other side the chili, salt, and pepper treatment.

After the first side has cooked for about 5 minutes, give the breasts a flip.

Now, cover them with foil. This helps the chicken cook through a little faster.

Leave it alone to cook for 5 minutes.

Meat cooks best when you don’t mess with it.

Don’t press on it.

Don’t move it around.

Don’t poke it.

Just leave it be.

Take an onion and remove the peel.

Cut the onion in half, and then slice it into half moons.

Take your chicken breasts out of the pan.

Give it a quick wipe down, then add some fresh oil (still over med-high heat).

Throw your onions into the pan.

I did not take a pic.

I’m a failure.

Push the onions around a bit, and allow them to brown up.

Now to our chicken. When you pull it out of the pan, let it sit on your cutting board for a few minutes before messing with it.

Cutting into the chicken too early will let all of the juices drip out.

And we want the juice IN the chicken.

Slice it.

Grab your favorite BBQ sauce.

I chose Montgomery Inn BBQ Sauce- a Cincinnati favorite.

Give your chicken a drizzle while it is still pretty darn hot.

Then, massage the sauce into the meat.

Chop it up even more finely.

Little bite-sized morsels.

Yum.

Onions should be about done now.

I put a little sprinkle of salt and pepper on the onions.

Because I’m naughty.

Pile up all of your desired calzone fillings.

I have sauteed onions, my bbq chicken, some cooked up bacon, shredded pepper jack cheese, and some chopped cilantro.

Now take out some pizza dough.

I had some homemade dough, but there are lots of great options in the grocery store,

Trader Joes makes a great fresh pizza dough for $.99. That is my store brand favorite.

I cut my dough in half.

Then rolled out the first calzone.

I try to get the dough into a an oval shape.

Pile up some chicken on one half of the calzone.

Top the chicken with some onions.

How about some bacon?

Yes, please!

Oooh-eee.. chopped cilantro is next.

Now, some crazy people don’t like cilantro. If that is you, I’m sorry.

I guess if you don’t like cilantro, you could use some green onion or chives instead.

Lots of cheese, please!

Now, use a little olive oil as your glue to secure the two sides of the calzone together.

Use a fork to seal it up.

And then trim any extra dough off of the edge.

Give the top of the calzone several pokes with a fork to allow steam to escape while they are baking.

Put your calzones on the a non-stick pan.

Give them a brush of olive oil, and give it a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Pop it into the oven for about 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, the calzones come out browned and beautiful.

And smelling good.

A half of a calzone was the perfect serving size.

The perfect pairing? A big green salad.

Not too shabby, right?

Have a great weekend pals.

XO,

Leah

You know what I love?

Like, a lot?

Planning.

Nothing in life makes me happier than knowing exactly what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it.

Know what my husband hates?

Like more than anything?

Planning.

Yep.

I think it is one of about a million reasons that we make a perfect pair. He pushes me to be more adaptable, and to try to find comfort in doing something spontaneous from time to time.

I push him to organize and plan, and at least commit to certain big events prior to them occurring.

So, when I heard about nesting- you know, the uncontrollable urge that hits pregnant women to make their home ready for baby- both Brad and I had a good laugh.

I have been nesting my whole life.

Every Saturday, I spend most of the day doing the traditional “nesting” rituals.

Then this past Sunday, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

When this baby comes, I may not have time to spend hours in my beloved kitchen cooking up good for us delicious food. At least not for a while.

Momentary panic.

I desperately needed a plan.

Only a plan would bring me joy, peace, happiness and harmony once again.

So, I landed on make-ahead meals. And I plan to have as many  made as possible before the baby arrives.

That way, we can continue to eat home cooked meals without the stress of having to find the time to prepare them.

Just having the plan made me feel instantly better.

I believe a good make ahead meal can work for anyone.

Busy work schedule?

Busy with kiddos at home?

Travel often?

Kids activities after school?

No time or energy to cook at the end of the day?

If any of the above are you, then the make ahead meal can make your life.

Easier. Better. More nutritious. More delicious.

Here are the meals that I made last Sunday. They are all stored in air-tight containers in the freezer waiting for me to crack them open this summer.

First, meatballs and sauce.

This recipe requires your stove to be on for a few hours; however, it doesn’t require a careful eye. Once you pop the meatballs in the sauce, you can just let it all simmer away while you move on to other activities.

I made enough meatballs and sauce for at least 2 frozen meals, and we had some of those delicious balls this past week for dinner.

Anything I stick in my freezer, I like to label.

Ah, organization.

Happiness.

I put the name of what I made, how many servings are included, and the date that I popped the food in the freezer.

Everything should be eaten within 6 months of freezing.

Then, of course, I just shared with you that delectable spicy pulled pork.

Again, an extra 2 meals worth of food were put into the freezer.

Pulled pork tacos or a pulled pork sandwich will be in my future!

Then, I made one of my favorite summer treats.

The bacon, onion, and blue cheese stuffed burger.

Four patties for two people equals two meals!

Double bagged for air-tight assurance!

Finally, I made a quick and easy chicken dish.

This one comes from my gal Ina.

Put a 1/4 cup of olive oil into a bowl.

Then grab a beautiful yellow lemon.

Zest that lemon.

By the way, if you don’t own a microplane (what I’m using in the pic below to zest the lemon), go to Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond over the weekend and get one!

Now, cut that lemon in half and squeeze all of the juice into the oil.

Remove any pesky seeds.

Take a sprig of fresh rosemary.

Or oregano.

Or dill.

Or whatever you have.

And chop it up finely (about 1 t).

And toss that into the bowl.

Now grate two cloves of garlic over your microplane and into your bowl.

A sprinkle of salt…

And  a touch of pepper, and your marinate is complete.

Now take out two beautiful boneless skinless chicken breasts.

And place each one in their own Ziploc bag (their own bag will allow for a faster defrost time when you pull these out of the freezer).

Whisk up your marinade.

And divide it equally between the two bags of chicken.

Toss those into a larger Ziploc bag, give it a label and throw it in your freezer.

Yes folks. It is that easy.

1 day.

About 2 hours of hands-on cooking (the pork sat in the oven for much longer and the sauce sat on the stove much longer, but I was free to go about my day while those cooked).

2 meals for eating this past week.

And 7 meals for freezing.

Not too shabby.

And for a planner like me…

Oh, for a planner. This brought about great peace of mind. I can’t wait to do it all over again this weekend.

I would love to hear of any of your favorite make ahead/freezer friendly meals.

Thanks all!

I hope your weekend is shaping up to be lovely.

We are seeing a whole bunch of old friends tomorrow, and that makes me infinitely happy.

XO,

Leah

Our dear friends are expecting twins in only a few short weeks. Our babies will be born within weeks of each other, and it has been such a treat to be pregnant together. Because the twin’s mama is the tiniest tot on the planet, she has been placed on bed rest until the babies make their appearance.

So, on Thursday night, Brad and I brought some dinner to their house to hang out and catch up while chowing down on a sausage and goat cheese macaroni bake. Because of the bed rest, our friends weren’t able to use their Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra tickets. So, we were the lucky beneficiaries.

On Saturday night, the main man and I

headed to Cincinnati’s Historic Music Hall.

Music Hall is easily one of the city’s most beautiful landmarks. It was built in 1878, and it is such an experience to sit in the hall and think about all of the people who have sat in the seats and enjoyed the performing arts in one way or another over all of the 100+ years of this hall’s existence.

This is what you walk into as you come in the front doors:

(iPhone photo)

And here is the symphony warming up (our neighbor is in the back row- he is a percussionist):

And check out this chandelier. It is massive, and sparkly, and breathtaking. And it weighs a mere 2 tons!

The domed center of the hall is an oil painting that is original to the hall. It depicts the Allegory of the Arts.

The evening was delightful.

After the show, we stopped off at Senate, a gourmet street food restaurant in the Over the Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati.

Senate has the best appetizer in the city.

Poutine fries. Oh my.

Crispy french fries smothered in soft and salty cheese curd, braised short ribs, and a gravy sauce.

(Again, the iPhone photo- I promise it looked better in real life!)

Fuh-get-about-it. Poutine fries make my life.

I ordered a lemonade to drink, and our server brought over a raspberry infused lemonade in a martini glass for me. It was the prettiest pink mocktail I have ever seen. Delicious to boot!

So, last night I decided I would try to recreate the Berry Lemon Mocktail.

And guess what? I’m pretty sure I succeeded.

And so today, I shall share the recipe with ya. And I will encourage you to throw in some booze if you imbibe at all. Because while this mocktail is delightful… lets be honest, a cocktail is WAY Better.

I think this recipe will end up making about 4 drinks.

Start with 1 cup of berries. I happened to have both blackberries and raspberries, so I threw them both into the glass.

Now add 1/2 cup of sugar.

And you are done!!

Drink up!

OK, not really.

Get out your muddler. Do you have a muddler? Randomly, I do. And this may have been the first time I have ever used it. If you don’t have a muddler, use a spoon or fork and mash the berries and sugar together.

Keep mashing.

Until it looks like this.

Now, let those berries and the sugar sit together and hang out. Get to know one another. For about 10 minutes.

While the berries and sugar get acquainted, let’s squeeze some lemons.

I used 3 lemons to procure 1 cup of lemon juice.

Get out a pitcher and a strainer.

And pour your berry mixture in.

Seeds = bad.

Sweet seedless berry juice = good.

On

And 1 1/4 cup of water.

Mix it up.

Looking pretty and pink!

Now, get out a glass. Fill it about half way with your berry and lemon juice mixture.

I actually am a weirdo and enjoy having seeds in my drink, so I threw in a spoonful of the seeds from the strainer.

You can certainly skip this step.

Now fill your glass to the top with seltzer water. It adds a bubble and a sparkle.

Top off your drink with a whole berry or two along with a sprig of mint.

Yum-a-lum-a-ding-dong!!

I think this would taste pretty delicious with a generous splash of vodka or tequila or rum.

So have at it!

The drink of the spring!

Happy Monday Peeps!

XO,

Leah

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