Saturday, May 31, 2014

Crispy Margarita Chicken Tacos with Strawberry Avocado Salsa

These tacos are loaded with crispy chicken bursting with margarita flavor, sweet strawberries, and creamy avocado. The perfect summer meal and a great way to use some of the season's best produce!

Remember those Texas flour tortillas I posted a couple of days ago? Do me a favor and whip up a batch of those for these tacos - we're talking flavor. explosion. and good tortillas make a world of difference!

Margaritas are basically tequila and lime juice; two ingredients also perfect for marinating chicken! The chicken has a bright fresh flavor and a crispy texture. No frying necessary; just toss them in the oven and save the mess and calories.

The salsa is easy and quick, especially since strawberries are plentiful right now, and just screams summer to me. If you have any leftover, it's also delicious with chips!

Marinate the chicken the night before and you can toss together this meal in no time when you get home from work.

Crispy Margarita Chicken Tacos with Strawberry Avocado Salsa
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
8 taco sized flour tortillas
Cilantro, chopped, for topping
3 cups panko
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
zest of 3 limes
1 teaspoon ground cumin

For the marinade:
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup tequila
1/4 cup lime juice
zest of 2 limes
1 teaspoon ground cumin

For the salsa:
1 avocado, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/4 red onion, chopped
6 large strawberries, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the marinade ingredients in a gallon sized ziptop bag. Slice the chicken into strips lengthwise and add to the marinade. Let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours but no longer than 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 450 and lay a wire rack on a baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

Combine the panko, flour, lime zest, and cumin in a shallow dish. Remove the chicken from the marinade and coat each strip in the panko mixture, making sure all sides are well coated. Transfer each strip to the prepared wire rack. Once all are coated, spritz the chicken with cooking spray. Bake for 10 minutes, flip, then cook an additional 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the avocado, tomato, strawberries, and onion in a bowl. Add the lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Wrap your flour tortillas in foil and place in the oven the last 4 minutes of cooking to warm through. Top each tortilla with strips of chicken, mound of salsa, and chopped cilantro.

Source: slightly adapted from How Sweet It Is

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Flour Tortillas (Texas Style!)

In Texas, we're serious about our flour tortillas. We even have our own version! Ours are thick, slightly chewy, and very soft. Different than a traditional Mexican version and worlds away from the version found near the canned enchilada sauce in your local grocery store. These tortillas could not be easier - just 5 ingredients counting the salt! And salt hardly counts as a real ingredient :)

When you move away from home, you realize there are things you always took for granted. Like, quality flour tortillas. In Texas, just about every big grocery store has fresh tortillas being constantly made. There is literally an employee cranking out fresh made hot flour tortillas so you never have to resort to buying the thin mass produced packaged versions. Also in Texas, every Tex Mex restaurant has fresh tortillas made in house during dining hours. Even the fast food-ish spots often have the tortilla person on "display" when you come in the restaurant.

That doesn't exist here in North Carolina. Or, at least I've yet to find it.

I grew up on those thick flour tortillas brought to the table alongside your chips and salsa. And I learned early that they are amazing when spread with butter (also brought out with the tortillas) and a sprinkle of salt. You roll it up and inhale it. And then have another, or four. Healthy? Hardly. Tasty? You betcha! After all those tortillas and chips, I was rarely still hungry when my meal arrived!

Homemade tortillas are much simpler than you would imagine. This batch took me just a few minutes to toss together and the results are completely worth the effort! Perfect for tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, or rolling with butter and salt :) Most of the time is waiting on it to rest so you can easily whip up a batch while cooking the rest of the meal.

Texas Flour Tortillas
2 cups all purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3/4 cups warm milk

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and oil. Slowly add the warm milk and stir until a loose sticky ball is formed.

Knead for 2 minutes on a floured surface - the dough should be firm and soft. Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 20 minutes.

After the dough has rested, break it into 8 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball in your hands. Place the rolled pieces on a plate - not touching each other - and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 10 minutes.

After the dough has rested, place one dough ball at a time on a flour surface, pat it into a 4 inch circle, and then roll with a rolling pin from the center until it's thin and about 8 inches in diameter. Don't overwork the dough. Keep the rolled out tortillas covered until ready to cook.

In a dry skillet heated on high, cook each tortilla about 30 seconds on each side. It will bubble and puff up a bit when it's done. Keep the cooked tortillas covered until ready to eat.

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge wrapped tightly in foil or plastic.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Grilled Asparagus and Lemon Feta Quinoa

Simple grilled asparagus is paired with zesty feta and lemon quinoa making this easy dish the perfect summertime side!

Asparagus is hand's down our favorite vegetable so we eat a lot of it when it's in season (and cheap!). I've made it every way possible but still reach for the grill when it's time to prepare it. There is something about that smoky char flavor, and there is no easier method!

The quinoa is delicious on it's own but is especially flavorful when combined with the fresh-from-the-grill flavor of the asparagus. You can toss the quinoa together in advance if you're preparing for guests or a picnic and just add the asparagus after grilling. It's light, fresh, and tastes like summer.

Happy grilling!

Grilled Asparagus & Lemon Feta Quinoa
1 cup quinoa
2 bundles asparagus
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest

For the dressing:
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Rinse the quinoa, place in a small saucepan, and add 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Drain any excess water and set aside to cool.

To prepare the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, soy sauce, and lemon juice. Pour the dressing over the cooled quinoa and add the feta and parsley. Toss to combine.

Meanwhile, heat your grill to high and trim the asparagus. Drizzle olive oil over the asparagus and make sure each piece is well coated. Season with salt and pepper. Place the asparagus directly over the heat on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until well marked on all sides but not burnt, 6-8 minutes.

Transfer the quinoa to a serving platter and arrange the asparagus over top. Sprinkle with lemon zest before serving. 

Source: adapted from Green Kitchen Stories

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chicken Spaghetti

Chicken spaghetti is a classic Texas dish of spaghetti, creamy cheese sauce, shredded chicken, tomatoes, and chiles combined and baked into a big dish of comfort food. Some Texans reach for canned cream soups to make theirs but a fresh made sauce is simple, healthier, and much tastier! This version kicks it up a notch by blackening the tomatoes, chiles, onions, and garlic prior to baking and is our favorite to date!

I can't believe I've been blogging for 4 years and have yet to share a chicken spaghetti recipe! In Texas, this is the dish you bring to a church potluck dinner. Or to a family who recently brought home a new baby, or to someone recovering from surgery. This is the dish you make when you want to invite a boatload of good friends over and you need to serve something easy, comforting, and universally likeable.

If you've never had it before, or if you've never had a version that didn't use canned condensed soup, give this version a shot! I think you'll soon find it in your regular rotation of favorite meals. We fought over the leftovers at our house!

Chicken Spaghetti
8 ounces spaghetti
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, and halved lengthwise
4 cloves garlic, left whole
1/2 yellow onion
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, plus more if needed
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnishing
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
salt and pepper
4 cups shredded cooked chicken

Lightly spray a 9x13 inch baking dish and line a baking sheet with foil. Set both aside.

Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions. Drain, rinse, and place in the prepared baking dish.

Meanwhile, turn the broiler on high and adjust the top rack to be 6 inches under the heating element. Place the grape tomatoes (skin side up), jalapenos (skin side up), garlic cloves, and onion on the prepared baking sheet. Broil for 5-7 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and beginning to blacken. Remove from the oven and, when cool enough to handle, dice the tomatoes, jalapenos, garlic, and onion.

Turn the oven temperature down to 350.

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour until well combined and slightly browned, about 30 seconds. Slowly pour in the milk and cook, whisking often, until the sauce thickens, about 3-5 minutes. If it gets too thick, add a pinch of milk.

Once the sauce thickens, turn off the heat and slowly stir in 1 cup of cheddar and 1 cup of Monterey Jack, a little at a time, until melted and well incorporated into the sauce. Once smooth, stir in the chopped vegetables, cumin, cayenne, cilantro, lime juice, shredded chicken, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Pour into the baking dish over top of the cooked spaghetti and combine well (tongs are especially helpful for this step). Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup cheddar and 1 cup Monterey Jack over top.

Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until brown and bubbling. Garnish with cilantro before serving.

Friday, May 16, 2014

One-Pot Creamy Herb Pasta and Meatballs

This creamy pasta is delicious and perfect for a weeknight meal! Takes about 30 minutes start to finish and everything - including the noodles - is done in one skillet. Family friendly comfort food at it's finest!

The truth is that I would gladly eat pasta every night of the week. When I plan our menu I try to keep it varied with several different proteins, a rice based dish, and one pasta based dish. Probably the hardest part is deciding which pasta recipe I want to make!

I put this dish on the menu awhile back and remembered why we loved it so much the first time. The first picture was awful, and this one isn't much better, but don't let that scare you! It's SO tasty, quick, and will disappear within minutes! And, unlike most pasta dishes, you don't have to boil the noodles separately and dirty up a second pan (or wait on water to boil - which always seems to take forever!).

One-Pot Creamy Herb Pasta & Meatballs
1 pound ground beef (preferably 90%)
1 package garlic and herb Boursin cheese
salt and pepper
EVOO or vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
3.5 cups low sodium chicken broth
8 ounces dried egg noodles
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives

Combine the beef, 5 tablespoons Boursin cheese, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl and knead gently until just combined. Form the mixture into 1 inch meatballs. 

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook the meatballs until well browned all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a plate and pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pan.

Cook the onion in the remaining fat until browned, about 6 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook until golden, about 1 minute. Add the broth, noodles, and wine and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring often, until the pasta begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer, covered, until the meatballs are cooked through and the noodles are al dente, about 4 minutes. 

Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining Boursin cheese and chives. Season with salt and pepper. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sausage, Spinach, and Cheese Stuffed Shells

These shells are brimming with sausage, spinach, and cheese and so easy to make! Simple enough to make for a weeknight but also perfect for freezing ahead of time! This recipe makes 2 pans so it's perfect for a hungry family or for freezing for later.

When I was in the throes of my crazy work hours I had this brilliant idea of using the weekend to cook, prep, and freeze meals for the coming week. What I didn't realize is that I would be 1) working almost every weekend and/or 2) so exhausted that all I wanted to do was sleep. But before I came to that realization, I did make a couple of dishes that I stored away for later. And this was one of them!

{which is also why you're looking at a pre-baked picture!}

I actually shared this recipe 4 years ago and it was a winner then and a winner again in our house. Who doesn't love stuffed shells? These are delicious! I also love that they have built in portion control. Because I may or may not struggle with portion control...

This recipe makes enough for a 9x13 pan PLUS an 8x8 pan. Which means that unless you have 4 hungry teenage boys living at your house, you can freeze a pan for later!

Sausage, Spinach, and Cheese Stuffed Shells
1 (12 ounce) box jumbo pasta shells
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large egg
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1 (9-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 (32 ounce) jar tomato sauce with basil

Bring a large pot of water to boil and lightly salt. Add the shells and cook according to package directions. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain on paper towels.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Beat the egg lightly in a large bowl. Stir in the ricotta, spinach, 1/2 cup Parmesan, mozzarella, salt, pepper, and sausage mixture until well blended. 

Preheat oven to 350. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 and 8x8 baking dish. 

Stuff each shell with about 2 tablespoons of filling and arrange them in a prepared baking dish. Dollop remaining tomato sauce over top.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle with remaining Parmesan, and bake uncovered an additional 10 minutes. 

If freezing: don't bake. Instead, once all the shells are arranged and dolloped with sauce, wrap the pans tightly in plastic wrap followed by foil. When ready to cook, defrost in refrigerator until thawed. Remove the foil and plastic wrap; discard the plastic wrap and place the foil back on the pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle with 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan, and bake uncovered an additional 10 minutes. 

Source: adapted from Redbook Magazine

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookie Bars

These cookie bars are one of our FAVORITE desserts - they can be mixed together in less than 10 minutes using items you likely always have on hand. The result is a buttery sugar cookie bar that will disappear in no time!

So, my life has been insane lately and while things have slowed some, they are still pretty darn busy but most of the 80 hour weeks are finally behind me! During that time, we ate out every.single.meal. And by ate out, I mean that I drove my half comatose body through a drive through and ate it on the way to bed. I've so missed my kitchen and am glad to have been back cooking a couple of times a week.

I hope I didn't lose too many of you! :)

These bars are my go-to when we get a hankering for something sweet. I always have the ingredients on hand and it mixes up just as fast as a box mix. I used chocolate chips this time but have used M&Ms in the past. Add whatever you have on hand! They are moist, buttery, and delicious.

Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookie Bars
1 stick butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 and lightly spray an 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray.

Slice the butter into 1 tablespoon pieces and add them to a large mixing bowl. Microwave in short bursts, stirring often, until melted. Remove from the microwave and stir in the sugar. Let cool for 3 minutes before beating in the egg and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add this to the wet mixture and blend well. The mixture may be thick so use your hands to mix if needed.

Press the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes. Pull from the oven and add the chocolate chips over top, using as many as you prefer. Gently press them into the dough.

Return to the oven and bake for 10-12 more minutes, or until the top is set and the cookies don't wiggle when you shake the pan back and forth.

Cool completely in the pan before slicing. Yield 9 cookie bars.

Source: adapted from Stephanie Cookies

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