Monday, May 27, 2013

Big Mac Salad

First, some business to take care of: I've added a pinterest widget so that images can be pinned.  The button comes up when you hover over the images.  I've noticed that the hover option only works on photos that I've uploaded through Blogger only, not if I've also posted them through Photobucket.  I'm not going to go back and edit every post, but if there's something you really want to pin, let me know!

A couple of years ago, Joe ended up getting me a free cookbook at one of the tradeshows he went to for work: Hungry Girl 300 Under 300.  Basically, "Hungry Girl" is a regular lady named Lisa who likes to eat real food that tastes good but that is also healthy/healthier for you.  I haven't tried even close to all of the recipes yet, but all of the ones we've tried so far have been really good.

As the weather starts getting warmer, we like to lighten up our dinner options - big salads and big sandwiches are popular in this house.  Now, I LOVE a good salad, but sometimes the standard lettuce-cucumber-onions-carrots gets a little boring (note: I really don't like tomatoes).  I was flipping through my cookbook one night looking for inspiration, and came across this recipe.  Now, Hungry Girl actually has it named something completely different, but Joe and I both thought a more accurate and easier description was Big Mac Salad.

If you've ever been the Golden Arches and had a regular Big Mac, this salad has all of the same flavors but not nearly as many calories.  Admittedly, my version uses real beef - not soy crumbles, as the recipe calls for - increasing the amount of calories, but the flavors and taste are still there.  Also, you don't hate yourself and feel disgusting after you eat my version.

Even more important than all of that, though, is that I got my fiancee (still getting used to calling him that) to eat salad for dinner!  Two bowls!  Willingly and without complaint!

There was a little bit leftover that I brought to work with me for lunch. I crushed up some sweet potato tortilla chips for some extra crunch and HOLY COW it was the perfect combination!  Joe had suggested maybe putting in some french fries too, to really give it that fast food-y taste.  I think you'll accomplish the same thing if you add something a little healthier like potato sticks or tortilla chips.  Crushed up regular potato chips would probably work too.

Either way, this salad is really delicious, but also really filling - the perfect combination!

Big Mac Salad
Recipe adapted from Hungry Girl

1 medium-size head romaine lettuce, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
2 dill pickles, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 lb. hamburger, browned and drained
1 Tbsp. yellow mustard
1 Tbsp. ketchup
cheddar cheese 
Thousand Island dressing

Cook hamburger in a skillet.  Drain.  Place in a bowl and let cool to room temperature.  Once cool, mix in ketchup and mustard and set aside.  

Bring a skillet sprayed with nonstick spray to high heat on the stove. Add onion and cook until slightly browned and softened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the large bowl and set aside. 

Combine all ingredients except dressing in a large bowl.  Mix thoroghly.  Serve in individual bowls topped with Thousand Island dressing.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

S'mores, please!

I was originally going to blog about something else, but with Memorial Day right around the corner, this seemed pretty apropos.

I found the original recipe in a Food Network magazine that my future SIL gave to me.  Someone keeps subscribing her to magazines that she doesn't want and doesn't read.  Which is a huge score for me, because I love magazines - ESPECIALLY when I don't have to pay for them!

I had some people over my house this weekend for a jewelry party, so I converted this into a gluten free recipe so that everybody could eat it. I only told a few people that that they were GF, and the people who didn't know really couldn't tell - everyone kept talking about how delicious they were.  Josh came over on Monday and he took the rest home, bound and determined not to share any with mom (sorry).  I'm pretty sure I'm going to make this again for the family Memorial Day cookout.  I've mentioned in previous posts about wanting to make more GF things, and while I only have a few under my belt, I can already tell that this will be one of my favorites.  See, I'm of the mindset that having special dietary requirements or restrictions doesn't mean that food has to be gross or taste less delicious than the regular version.  With this recipe, you can't tell the difference, and that's precisely why I love it.

What's your favorite recipe for special diets?

Baked S'mores Bars
To print this recipe, click here
 photo Smores-bars_zps10bc9fb7.jpg
1 stick butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. gluten-free all purpose flour
1/2 cup gluten-free graham cracker crumbs (about 8 graham crackers)
16 gluten-free graham crackers, whole
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2-3 oz. dark chocolate bars
gluten-free marshmallow fluff or marshmallows
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease an 8" square pan and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or with an electric hand mixer, beat the butter, sugars and vanilla together until light and fluffy.

In a small bowl, combine flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and cinnamon.

Stir graham cracker mixture into butter until combined and a thick batter forms.

Spread the batter on the bottom of your prepared pan.

Evenly lay the two chocolate bars across the batter.

Spread the marshmallow fluff (or sprinkle the marshmallows) over the chocolate and evenly top with the whole graham crackers.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until fluff has lightly browned and top graham crackers have set.

Cool completely and slice.

Yields approx. 16 bars.

 photo Smores-bars-2_zps103a8b36.jpg

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Baked Ziti & Sausage

Today, I just want to talk about how helpful it can be to look on the labels of the foods you buy for delicious (and easy!) recipes.

This recipe for baked ziti comes right off of the box of Prince pasta, but it's really simple to make and tastes delicious.  It's also pretty basic, so if I want to add more or less stuff, I can easily do that without messing up the whole thing.

This time around, I added a couple of diced tomatoes, but in the past I've also added some diced up onions.  I think it would be really good with some peppers, too, and you can easily swap out the pork sausage for hamburger or turkey or chicken sausage if you want something a little healthier.  I just thought of this now, but with some cut up breaded chicken, this would taste just like chicken parm.  Mmmmmm.

It's so good, in fact, that it's become one of our "go to" dinners.  We have it probably about once a month, and it makes enough for my lunch the next day plus dinner for the following day (or sometimes two days, depending on how much we eat to start with).  The pasta and cheesy goodness is a little heavy for this time of year, but it's perfect during the fall and winter months when you want a warm, satisfying meal, but also don't want to spend all day in the kitchen.

I normally don't pay attention to the recipes that are on the labels of foods that we buy, but every once in awhile, they have a really good one that either seems to be worth trying or that sparks an idea to try something else.  What's your favorite recipe like this?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cheese Me!

There's a lot happening in this post.  First of all, happy mother's day to all you mommies out there!  I can't speak for all of them, but my mom rocks!  (HI MOMMY!)

Also, I got engaged yesterday! It's really bizarre and unreal.  Everyone keeps asking if we're serious and I have to be honest, I sorta feel like I'm being punked, but I'm just gonna go with it.  I'll post more later, promise.

Now, on to the post:

It's very possible that I have an unhealthy obsession with cheese.  Whenever I make anything that requires shredded cheese, I end up eating at least one giant handful, sometimes more.  If I make a cheese and cracker platter, I will most likely eat as much cheese as I put out for everyone else to enjoy.  At said parties where I'm the guest and there's cheese, I'll be "full" and "can't eat any more" as I put another slice of cheese into my mouth.  I've been known to request a sample slice of cheese from the deli on more than one occasion (you know, that sample slice that they usually give to your little kid in the carriage).

So, when the opportunity presented itself to make homemade macaroni and cheese, you know I had to jump at the chance.

This is actually the second time I've made this recipe.  The first time, Joe took one bite, made a funny a face and asked me what I made for dinner.  If you're thinking to yourself, "he didn't even recognize it as macaroni and cheese?" then you would be correct.  Thankfully, that time I was smart and set aside some plain pasta for him.  When I asked him about it afterwards, he said that he's pretty much only had Kraft and the few times where homemade was the only option, he wasn't really that impressed.

This time around, I made some for myself and enjoyed a few days of a delicious, cheesy lunch.  More for me? No complaints!  


Macaroni and Cheese
To print this recipe, click here
Approx. half box (16 oz size) medium size shells or pasta of your choice
2 Tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1 cup of shredded cheese (my grocery store had a "mac and cheese" blend that I bought - Cheddar, Swiss and American)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Handful of grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375°F. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and place in a single layer in a greased 9" x 13" casserole dish.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Mix in flour until mixture is thick and clumpy, then whisk in milk. Continue to whisk mixture and cook until slightly thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Add cheese by small handfuls, stirring until melted completely before adding the next handful. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pour sauce over pasta and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake until cheese is golden, about 20 minutes.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Box Mix Challah (Oy Vey!)

Or, "why I really don't think bread should come from a box".

Let me back it up a little.

As my abilities in the kitchen have grown, I've learned to have a love/hate relationship with box mix anythings - cakes, brownies, you name it. 

I love them for the same reasons that everyone else does.  I mean, let's be honest: there's something to be said when it takes you five minutes and minimal effort to put together a cake or batch of brownies before you pop them in the oven.  There's also the consistency factor.  Every box of yellow cake mix tastes the same way the last one did.  Plus, you hardly need any ingredients to whip up your box mix delight and even if you don't have you need (usually a combination of eggs, oil and water), you can find enough ways around it to still make it come out okay.

Alas, these are also the reasons I pretty much hate box mixes.  Opening something from a box, adding a few things and putting it in the oven hardly counts as "baking" or "cooking", and sometimes, that consistency is annoying - what if I want my chocolate cake to be MORE chocolatey? Or my brownies to be more or less fudgy?  Also, I feel like something from scratch just tastes better.

I'll be honest and say that I like to use box mixes when I'm experimenting with flavors (twinkie cupcakes) or trying something new that I'm not sure will work (brownie bottom cupcakes).  Sometimes, it's easier to experiment with something I know I can count on and trying to work backwards from there.

So, that's my rant about box cake mixes.  Now, let's talk about this boxed Challah mix I got as a sample from Joe's boss.

First, what it is: quite simply, Challah is just braided bread that represents the manna that fell from the heavens when the Jews were wandering the dessert for 40 years.  Cultural significance aside, Challah is really just a bread dough, made with egg, that's braided instead of put in a loaf pan.

So, seems easy enough.  I haven't yet made any from scratch, but I did get a chance to try out this sample over the weekend.
Photo from

Like most box mixes, the instructions were really easy.  For this one, the only additional ingredients you need are minimal amount of flour and sugar and a couple of eggs.  Everything else, including the yeast, is inside the box.

The box claims that this will get you challah in less than 2 hours, and it does.  However, getting "a" challah and getting a "good" challah are two entirely different things.  After you combine the ingredients, you're supposed to cover your dough and let it rise for 10 minutes.  I did, but nothing happened and it looked exactly the same.

Then, after you braid your dough, you're supposed to let it rise for 45 minutes.  I did - I even covered it with a warm, damp towel - and it didn't really get any bigger.  It got a little bigger in the oven, but still nothing like the big and fluffy challahs that I'm accustomed to.
To be fair, it came out looking amazing!

Like all bread, it smelled delicious while it was in the oven.  Once I took it out of the oven and transferred it to a rack to cool, I knew I was probably in trouble - the challah was really heavy and felt like it weighed a million pounds.  Slicing it, I was pretty positive it wasn't going to be any good - it felt really thick and not as light and fluffy as any other bread I've ever made.  I served some with dinner and was really unimpressed with the results - dense, chewy, bland.  Even plain, store-bought challah has more flavor than this one did.

Overall, while this WAS really easy to make, it leaves much to be desired.  The challah was way too dense with very little flavor - for me, too big of a sacrifice to make for the added convenience.

What's the last kind of box mix that you used?