Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Many people's only experience with quesadillas has come in the drive-thru lane at their local Taco Bell.  While these "quesadillas" are technically edible, they do not compare with the homestyle versions I enjoyed during my 5 year stay in Texas.  Quesadillas are essentially the grilled cheese of Mexican cooking, and the simplest quesadilla is made using just cheese and a tortilla.

However, just like a grilled cheese, you can also add meats and veggies to make the flavor suit your tastes.  Just about anything can be used as a filling.  I like to use leftover fajita meat, along with the onions and peppers, for a quick lunch the next day.  Another of my favorites is using leftover barbecue brisket.  You can even make a vegetarian version with sauteed mushrooms, black beans, and spinach for the filling.  The possibilities are really up to you.

The key to a good quesadilla is the pan.  Cast iron is probably the best choice, but any heavy bottomed pan that distributes heat evenly will work.  Just be sure not to turn the heat up too high, or you will burn the tortilla before the cheese melts.  Also, if you kept the heat low, the cheese should melt enough to hold the quesadilla together when flipping it over.


4 burrito size tortillas
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1-2 cups filling (your choice)
3 Tbsp butter

Sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese on 1/2 of each tortilla.  Divide filling evenly over cheese.  Sprinkle filling with remaining cheese.  Fold tortilla over top of cheese.

In large skillet over medium low heat, melt 1 Tbsp butter.  Add two quesadillas to pan and cook over medium low heat until bottom is browned and cheese is melted, about 3-4 minutes (remember to keep the heat down so you don't burn the tortilla).  Add 1/2 Tbsp butter to pan and carefully flip quesadillas over.  Cook another 3-4 minutes, or until second side is golden brown.  Remove from pan and let rest two minutes before cutting.  Repeat with remaining two quesadillas.  If desired, serve with sour cream and/or guacamole.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Creamy Chicken Enchilada Soup

My sister posted a soup recipe a couple weeks ago on her blog for Creamy Chicken Enchilada Soup (you can find her original post here).  I decided to try it (with a couple modifications) on my family.  This soup seemed like it would be good for us because we like thicker soups, rather than ones with just a broth base.  This soup came out nice and thick and had a really good flavor.  I decreased the amount of milk from the original dish, but increased the amount of broth to keep the overall liquid the same.  I also added a finely minced chipotle pepper for a bit of smoky flavor and heat.

Creamy Chicken Enchilada Soup

1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, seeded and diced
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can corn, drained
1 chipotle pepper, seeded and minced fine
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1-1/2 lbs chicken breast or tenderloins
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
1-1/2 cups milk
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
1 can enchilada sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

In medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter.  Stir in flour and cook for 2 minutes.  Add  1 cup chicken broth and stir until no lumps remain.  Pour in milk and heat until thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in enchilada sauce.  Set aside.

Place onion, green pepper, beans, corn, chipotle pepper, and tomatoes in crockpot and mix together.  Lay chicken over top of vegetables.  Pour remaining 1/2 cup chicken broth over top of chicken.  Pour sauce over chicken.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4.  Remove chicken from soup and shred.  Return chicken to soup and season soup to taste with salt and pepper.  Garnish with cheese, sour cream, and cilantro.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Baked Acorn Squash

Acorn squash is one of those cheap vegetables from the produce department that you rarely see people purchase.  When I used to work in a produce department, I only had to order this from our supplier on rare occasions.  That's too bad, because this squash is loaded with vitamins A, B6, C, and E, as well as being a good source of potassium and magnesium.  Additionally, it keeps very well, so you can purchase it today and not not cook it til next week if you desire.  On top of all that, it is a truly delicious side that just screams fall.

Baked Acorn Squash

2 acorn squash
4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Cut squash in half vertically.  Using spoon, scoop out seeds and discard.  Place squash, cut side down in a 9x13-inch baking dish.  Add 1/2 cup water to pan and bake in oven for 30 minutes.

Remove pan from oven and turn squash over.  Place 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp brown sugar in the cavity of each squash half.  Sprinkle with cinnamon.  Return to oven for 30 more minutes, or until squash is very tender.  To eat, scrape squash from shell with fork and mix with butter mixture.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cabbage and Apples

During the summer, any cabbage that crosses my cutting board usually finds its way into a cole slaw.  However, in the fall and winter I prefer the taste of cooked cabbage.  In this dish, I combined the cabbage with a fall classic, the apple, to create a dish that is sweet enough that even my picky daughter not only tried, but ate every single bite of.  Additionally, this dish adds a bold color to the plate, making it appealing visually as well.

Cabbage and Apples

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 small head red cabbage
1 large Granny Smith apple, cored and peeled
1/2 cup apple juice
1 tsp kosher salt

Cut apple into 1/2-inch cubes.  In large skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Add apple and cook 4-5 minutes, stirring often, until apple is lightly browned.  While apple is cooking, cut cabbage in half and remove core.  Slice cabbage into thin ribbons and separate.  Add cabbage to skillet and toss.

Add apple juice and sprinkle salt over top of cabbage.  Cover with lid and cook until cabbage is tender but not mushy (about 10-15 minutes).  Remove from heat and serve immediately.

This recipe is shared at:
Kelly The Kitchen Kop

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Breakfast Burritos

Breakfast in my house is usually eaten on the run.  Whether off to school or work, we usually grab breakfast to go.  These burritos are great because they make a filling breakfast in portable form, and they freeze well too.  These can be made and frozen on the weekend, then heated up throughout the week by simply popping them in the microwave for a couple minutes.  To keep them warm on the way to work or school, I usually wrap them in aluminum foil after microwaving.

This recipe makes 4 large burritos, but can easily be doubled or tripled to make larger quantities.

Breakfast Burritos

1 link chorizo sausage, casing removed
2-1/2 cups frozen potatoes w/onions and peppers
1/2 cup ham, diced
4 eggs
4 burrito size tortillas
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Jalapenos (if desired)

In large non-stick skillet, crumble and brown sausage over medium high heat.  Remove sausage from pan and set aside.  To drippings in pan, add potatoes and ham.  Cook and stir over medium heat  until potatoes are soft and lightly browned (if food starts to stick, add a little olive oil to pan).  Add sausage back to pan.

In small bowl, beat eggs.  Push potato and meat mixture to sides of pan and pour eggs into center of pan.  Let eggs cook for 1 minute, then scramble eggs into meat and potato mixture.  Continue cooking until eggs are set, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  To assemble, place 1/4 of egg mixture down center of tortilla.  Top with 1/4 cup cheese.  If desired, add salsa and jalapenos.  Fold ends of tortilla in, then roll up.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pressed Chicken Pesto Sandwiches

Sandwiches are like personalities. Everyone has their own and there are literally thousands of variations.  You can simply place a slice of bologna between two slices of bread, or you get fancy by adding all sorts of exotic ingredients.  The choice is totally yours.  This sandwich combines some of my favorite ingredients.  I love the flavor of pesto, and the rest of the ingredients pair very well with it.  The sandwich is pressed and grilled, which makes the outside crunchy and the inside hot and tasty.  Just the way I like it.  The nice thing is, if you don't like it, you can change the ingredients to suit your own tastes.  Why? Cause it's your sandwich.

Chicken Pesto Sandwiches

6 4-5 inch sub rolls
6 Tbsp pesto
12 oz cooked chicken breast, chopped
2 oz olives, sliced
1-1/2 cups fresh spinach
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Olive oil

Split sub rolls in half horizontally.  Spread 1 Tbsp of pesto on each bottom half of bread.  Top pesto with 2 oz of chicken per sandwich.  Divide olives evenly over chicken.  Sprinkle cheese evenly over olives.  Add 1/4 cup spinach to each sandwich and cover with top half of bread.

Brush top of sandwiches with olive oil.  Drizzle olive oil on bottom plate of countertop grill or panini press.Place sandwiches on grill and press down firmly (I usually set my really heavy skillet on top of the grill to press it down).  Grill 4-5 minutes, or until outside of sandwich is crunchy and cheese is melted.  Remove from grill and cool 1 minute before cutting.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sauteed Green Beans

Growing up in my house green beans were served one of three ways.  Holidays meant green bean casserole, and the rest of the year meant canned green beans or fresh green beans boiled to a greyish color and served lifeless along side dinner.  Needless to say, I wasn't a big fan.

A couple years ago, I decided to try something new.  Rather than boiling the beans, I opted to saute them in a little olive oil and season them with lemon juice and herbs.  Everyone loved them and they have been a regular on our table since then.  You can use fresh green beans if they are in season, or you can use frozen the rest of the year.  Just remember, if you use fresh, they will cook a lot quicker than the frozen variety.

Sauteed Green Beans

1 lb frozen green beans
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp dried basil
Kosher salt

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat until drops of water dance on surface of pan.  Add olive oil, then green beans.  Saute over medium high heat for 7-10 minutes, or until bright green and crisp-tender.  Reduce heat to medium and add lemon juice and basil.  Season with salt to taste.  Saute 2 minutes longer.  Serve immediately.  If desired, garnish with shredded lemon zest.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ham w/Apples and Sweet Potatoes

I enjoy cooking with seasonal foods, and with fall setting in here in Nebraska, apples are in abundant supply.  This recipe uses the flavors of apples and another fall favorite, the sweet potato, to pair with glazed ham slices. The apples and sweet potatoes are placed in the bottom of the pan, then the ham is placed over the produce, and everything is topped off with an orange based glaze that goes well with everything.

Ham w/Apples and Sweet Potatoes

2 large sweet potatoes (about 1-1/4 lbs each)
2 apples
1-1/2 lbs ham, cut in thick slices
3/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp orange marmalade or apricot preserves
1 tsp grates fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Peel and cut sweet potato into 1-inch chunks.  Place sweet potato in saucepan and add enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered for 15 minutes.  Drain well.

Meanwhile, make sauce by mixing together orange juice, cornstarch, soy sauce, marmalade or preserves, ginger, and garlic.  Bring to a boil, stirring often.  Reduce heat and cook 3 minutes, or until thickened.

Cut apples into eight wedges.  Remove core from each wedge and arrange apples and sweet potatoes in single layer in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan.  Arrange ham slices over top of apples and sweet potatoes.  Pour sauce evenly over top of ham.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and bake 10 minutes more.  Serve immediately.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pesto Crescent Rolls

Sometimes, I just need a quick side dish.  When I want some type of bread for that side dish, I usually reach for a package of refrigerated biscuits or rolls.  That's where this recipe started.  I decided to have crescent rolls with dinner, so I opened the package up, and laid them all out.  Suddenly, I remembered I needed to add something to the main dish I was making.  I opened the refrigerator and there was a jar of leftover pesto sauce just staring at me, begging to be used.  I decided to spread a little over the top of the crescent rolls before rolling them up.  I then baked them according to the package directions.  They came out delicious.  Hope you enjoy.

Pesto Crescent Rolls

1 tube crescent rolls
3 Tbsp pesto sauce

Unroll and separate crescent rolls.  Using pastry brush, spread pesto sauce over top of unrolled crescent rolls.  Roll and bake according to package directions.  Serve hot.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash

In the fall, butternut squash is plentiful and cheap.  So every fall, I look forward to cooking this vegetable in as many ways as I can.  This is one of the simplest ways I can think of.  Simply toss the squash with some oil and a few seasonings, then roast in a hot oven for about 45 minutes.  The squash comes out soft and sweet, and the seasonings give it a savory flavor that compliments the squash beautifully.

Roasted Butternut Squash

2 medium butternut squash (about 2 lbs each)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp dried sage

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut butternut squash in half.  Using a spoon, scoop out and discard the seeds.  Using a large knife, trim away peel from squash.  Cut squash into 1-inch cubes and place in large bowl.  Pour oil over top and toss to coat.  Sprinkle sage and salt over squash and toss again.

Pour into baking dish and roast in 400 degree F oven for 40-50 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool slightly.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Apricot Chicken

Recently my wife and I went out to lunch.  She decided to order the Apricot Chicken, mainly because she likes asparagus (which came with the chicken), but also because she thought the flavor of cooked fruit would go well with the chicken.  She was right, and really enjoyed the dish.

She asked me to try to make the dish for her at home, so this is my version.  I left out a couple things from the original, and added some dried apricots to the sauce to give it a little more texture.  She was very pleased with the end result, and told me she preferred my version to that of the restaurant (I think she was just trying to be nice).  Either way it goes, this one is going into the regular rotation.

Apricot Chicken

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb asparagus
1 lb broccoli florets
2/3 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup apricot preserves
8 dried apricots, diced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut chicken breasts in half, if desired.  Sprinkle chicken with garlic powder and salt.  Heat olive oil in oven-proof skillet over medium high heat.  Place chicken in skillet and sear one side (about 2 minutes).  Turn chicken over and immediately place in oven.  Roast in oven for 13-16 minutes, or until chicken reaches 180 degrees F on an instant read thermometer.

While chicken is in oven, place broccoli and asparagus in steamer over boiling water and steam for 4-6 minutes, or until broccoli is bright green and asparagus is soft but not mushy.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, stir together apricot preserves, chicken broth, and chopped apricots.  Slowly bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and let set 5 minutes before serving.

To serve, top chicken and vegetables with the apricot sauce.  This is also good over noodles, rice, or couscous.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Herb-Roasted Whole Chicken

Sunday dinners are special.  Think about the crazy week you've had and try to remember how hard is was to have dinner as a family (no, leaving a pizza on the counter to . With everyone's busy lives, it can be difficult to find the time for the entire family to sit down together, but Sunday afternoon is usually the best option.

My Herb-Roasted Whole Chicken is a great centerpiece for the meal.  You can use the herbs I have listed below, or you can leave out anything you don't like or add to the spice mixture to suit your tastes.  The important thing to remember, though, is to make sure you thaw the bird thoroughly and remove the giblets before roasting the chicken (you can use the giblets to make gravy if you wish, mine usually just end up in the trash).  I usually try to give the bird at least 48 (but no more than 72) hours in the fridge to thaw before cooking.  If not thawed completely, some parts of the chicken will be fully cooked while others will be cold and undercooked.  I don't know about you, but spending the rest of the day at the hospital with Salmonella poisoning just doesn't sound near as much fun as watching Sunday Night Football.

For ideas of what to serve with the chicken, head over to my Meal Ideas page.

Herb-Roasted Whole Chicken

1 3-1/2 to 4 lb whole chicken, giblets removed
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 onion, cut into 4 pieces
1 stalk celery, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 carrot, peeled, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 Tbsp kosher salt, divided
1 tsp ground black pepper, divided
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp celery flakes
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels.  Rub outside of chicken all over with oil.  Season inside of chicken with 1/2 Tbsp of salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Stuff onion, celery, and carrot into chicken.  In small bowl, mix together remaining salt and pepper, basil, celery flakes, parsley, oregano, and garlic powder.  Sprinkle over skin of chicken and rub to ensure herbs stick to chicken.  Place chicken in roasting pan and cover with aluminum foil.

Roast chicken, covered for 1 hour and 10 minutes.  Remove foil and roast another 30-45 minutes, or until temperature of thigh reads 180 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer (make sure tip of thermometer does not touch bone).  Discard vegetables in cavity of chicken.  Cover chicken with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes before carving.

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