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  1. Monday, November 5, 2012

    {Hunt’s Signature Recipes} Bruschetta Chicken Skillet

    When I started cooking and discovering recipes, I remember several people telling me that recipes you find on the back of packages of ingredients are always good. After all, a company is going to want you to use their product in a successful way so you buy it again! I’ve found the old adage to be true and have discovered some great recipes this way. And now, with the Internet, recipes from brands are always right at our fingertips, even if you’ve thrown the can or box away!

    Hunt’s has oodles of recipes to choose from on their website and their Signature Recipes page is especially mouthwatering. In anticipation of working with Hunt’s, I have browsed the Signature Recipes many times and have several I can’t wait to try!

    There are, of course, lots of great pasta recipes. I’m especially intrigued by the Italian Vegetable Pasta Salad, since most pasta salads don’t have a tomato base. I think it sounds delicious! The are also plenty of non-Italian and pasta recipes to choose from, including the Arroz con Pollo y Frijoles Negros, which is made with rice and beans. The Crispy Breaded Tilapia looks awesome and the sauce has balsamic vinegar, which sounds divine. And the Sopa de Fideo con Pollo looks simple and utilizes angel hair fideo, an ingredient I’ve never used before. Lots of fun things to try!

    My first venture with the Signature Recipes was the Bruschetta Chicken Skillet. Every time I looked at the list of recipes, that one stood out. We gave it a try last week for dinner and it was great! I especially loved the touch of crunchy breadcrumbs sprinkled over the chicken right before serving. I definitely recommend the recipe. Here are few notes on my experience:

    • The bruschetta mixture that you put on the chicken is awesome. In fact, my 4-year-old Anna kept stealing spoonfuls of the stuff! I think it would delicious as a straight up bruschetta and am tucking away the recipe for that purpose!
    • Don’t skip the chicken-pounding step – this is key to keeping the chicken tender!
    • I switched up the order of Step 3 as follows: brown the chicken over medium heat in olive oil or butter. Once chicken is browned, add the tomato sauce and garlic, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and then press the bruschetta topping onto each chicken piece. Cover the pan and cook for 10-15 minutes over low heat. Proceed with the recipe as written.
    • The croutons are kind of hard to break up into small pieces. I broke mine up in a bowl with my pastry blender, but next time I will put the croutons in a plastic zip bag and bang them with a rolling pin. Less messy and more effective!

     

    Tell us which Signature Recipes look intriguing to you or share your favorite “back-of-the-box” recipe that has become a staple in your kitchen!


  2. Sunday, November 4, 2012

    Week 302 Menu

    I hope everyone had a fun Halloween! Our little family had a really lovely day and I was especially excited with how our costumes came out. Click here to see the Peanuts gang in action! (I promise I didn’t once pull the football out from under my baby. But I did give out some pretty stellar 5-cent psychiatric advice.)

    Not much in the house for breakfast this morning, so Dad made everyone hot chocolate. Which pretty much means the girls had marshmallows for breakfast.

    I can’t believe it’s time to come up with another menu! What to eat, what to eat…

    MONDAY:
    – Orange chicken w/potstickers (from Costco’s freezer section)
    – Cauliflower

    TUESDAY:
    – Homemade pizzas (traditional cheese for the kids, honey goat cheese with caramelized onions for us)

    WEDNESDAY:
    Lulu’s

    THURSDAY:
    – Eat out with the soccer team – last practice of the season!

    FRIDAY:
    Cilantro Sour Cream Enchiladas

    SATURDAY:
    – Leftovers

    SUNDAY:
    Chili

     Your turn! Please share your menus, big and small! 


  3. Friday, November 2, 2012

    {Food for Thought Friday} Feeding People After Sandy

    I think we are all stunned at the damage that Sandy has caused to the East coast. Thankfully, all of my family was safe throughout the storm, for which I am very grateful. I’m from New Jersey, having grown up just 45 miles west of New York City. It is strange to turn on the news and hear the names of familiar places being spoken of in connection with such great destruction. Stranger still, I’m sure, for those on the ground. Mostly, though, I can’t stop thinking about all the people who have lost so much. My heart goes out to each and every one, wishing them strength in what is sure to be a long and difficult recovery.

    This week I heard two great stories about people feeding people during Sandy, which seemed appropriate for this week’s Food for Thought.

    First, a quick story about Uncle Paul’s Pizza, a four-month old restaurant that stayed open through the hurricane. Five of the workers were stranded there anyway, so they just kept cooking!

    Second, Citymeals-on-Wheels. I heard a story about this organization on NPR yesterday afternoon that was awesome (unfortunately I can’t find the story on the NPR website). Citymeals has responded to Sandy by continuing to deliver meals to elderly people who are stranded in buildings without power. The NPR reporter joined the volunteers for a few deliveries, including one that involved a climb of 25 stories. Click here to read more about the organization and how you can get involved.

    And, finally, a link to The Red Cross.

    Prayers and love to all affected by Sandy!


  4. Thursday, November 1, 2012

    Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding

    Since it’s the day after Halloween, I thought I would share a devilishly delectable dessert with you. Because we’re all needing more sugar in our lives, right?

    I’m a sucker for bread pudding. Seriously can’t get enough of the stuff. Especially when there is chocolate involved. My friend Adrianne shared a chocolate bread pudding recipe with me years ago that is mighty fine. (If you click through, PLEASE ignore the awful picture!) What I especially love about this particular recipe is you do not need to cook the pudding in a water bath. Granted, I’m sure a water bath makes for more even cooking, but honestly, this recipe always comes out and saves a pretty annoying step in the process.

    I decided to try adapting the recipe using croissants. The first time it was too chocolatey. The second time it was not chocolatey enough. I think now it’s finally just right. Buttery, chocolatey goodness galore.

    Cate loved this dessert maybe more than I did. Every day that it was in the fridge the first thing she would say at school pick-up was, “Bread pudding?” {I’m not exaggerating. I think she was thinking about it all day every day!}

    Oh, and I decided that the bread pudding needed a little cream anglaise. And boy was I right. The crème anglaise put the darn thing over the edge. I used this recipe from Epicurious. Anna actually skipped the pudding and just had crème anglaise straight up. So funny.

    Without further ado…

    Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding
     
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • - 6 regular-sized croissants, cut into cubes
    • - 2 cups whole or 2% milk
    • - 3 eggs
    • - 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
    • - ½ teaspoon salt
    • - 1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
    • - ½ cup sugar
    • - 6 tablespoons butter
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
    2. Melt over medium low heat – chocolate chips, sugar, butter. Stir frequently to avoid scorching. (I usually melt the butter first, then toss in the chocolate and sugar when it’s almost all melted.)
    3. Whisk together milk, eggs, vanilla extract and salt. Add cubed croissants. Stir and let egg soak into the bread a bit. Fold in melted chocolate mixture (don’t over mix, it’s nice to have a bit of marbling.)
    Notes
    If you have a leaky springform pan like I do, line the bottom of the pan with some foil to account for any leaking (see photo – note, that is the bread before it has soaked in the egg. it loses a lot of volume once it soaks so don’t worry! that’s just the only photo I took with the foil lining the pan). Pour mixture into buttered 9-inch springform pan. Bake for about 1 hour, until center springs back gently when pressed. I also just sort of check the center with a thin knife to make sure the it is cooked. It should be moist and custard like, but not too eggy. Cool for 15 minutes, remove sides of pan and slice. Or just keep it in the pan and dig out servings with a spoon. Depends on how pretty you want things!
    Serve with crème anglaise, if desired.


  5. Tuesday, October 30, 2012

    {Call for Recipes} Canned Tomato Recipes, and Hunt’s FlashSteam Tomato Deliciousness

    First off, lots of happy thoughts/prayers/positive energy to everyone on the East Coast affected by Sandy. I planned today’s post before the storm hit, but the topic and call for recipes might actually be helpful for those of you living off your pantry this week, as long as you have access to the Internet to even read this in the first place!

    Each Sunday when I plan my menu, I build my grocery list based on that menu. As a result I am a pretty efficient shopper and only buy food for that week.  We spend less money and waste less food this way, but I tend not to have much stocked away for go-to dinners. However, one of the few ingredients that I always have on hand is canned tomatoes. As long as there are canned tomatoes on my pantry shelf, I can always throw something together!

    As I have mentioned, I am currently working with Hunt’s canned tomatoes. When they first approached me, it was a no-brainer deciding to work with them. I use canned tomatoes all the time and love the Hunt’s product. You’re probably going to get sick of hearing me say this, but the Hunt’s petite-diced tomatoes are my FAVORITE and I’ve been buying them for years. The size of the dice makes the tomatoes super versatile for many of my recipes. They’re the best!

    Once I actually started working with Hunt’s, I learned more about where the tomatoes come from and how they are canned. What I found out makes me like the Hunt’s product even more.

    Hunt’s tomatoes are all grown in Oakdale, California and are picked when they are ripe. All of the tomatoes go from harvest to can in a matter of hours, which means they really are canned at the peak of freshness.  I think this approach does in fact make for a flavorful canned tomato, which becomes obvious whenever I make my super fresh-tasting homemade tomato sauce.

    Here’s the other great part of Hunt’s canned tomatoes that I did not know previously. Hunt’s uses what they call the FlashSteam process for peeling the tomatoes, as opposed to using chemicals like some other brands, and there are no added preservatives.

    I tried canning tomatoes once. The peeling process about killed me. As much as I would love to can my own tomatoes every year, I simply do not have the time or, quite honestly, the energy. But canned tomatoes are a staple, so, I’m just going to let Hunt’s do the work for me! They’ve got it figured out and the tomatoes taste great. Done and done.

    Time for today’s Call for Recipes! Please share your favorite recipes using canned tomatoes! Now that we are entering the winter months when fresh produce is scarce, I’m ready to crack into the canned tomatoes more frequently and would love new recipes! And I’m pretty sure there are lots of folks on the East Coast who could use canned food recipes this week!

    I’ll kick us off with my most favorite recipe using canned tomatoes: Tuscan Tomato Soup. This is super crazy delicious soup, people. On your mark, get set, go! Share your canned tomato recipes!


  6. Sunday, October 28, 2012

    Week 301 Menu

    Remember my little friend Lucy? She just had her birthday and she is FOUR years old! Keep in mind this is twice as long as her doctors’ prediction three years ago…we told you Lucy is a fighter! Lucy shares a birthday with her older sister, Jocey, and we had the opportunity to attend their birthday party yesterday. Jocey wanted a dog cake, Lucy wanted My Little Pony…so they got both! Their gorgeous and adorable cake came from Studio Cake in Menlo Park and it was absolutely perfect.

    I think my favorite part of the party, though, was watching Jocey and Lucy interact. Lucy watching Jocey blow out their candles, Jocey cuddling with Lucy over and over again…words can’t describe.

    By the way, the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation has raised over $100,000 so far through the Santa Barbara Marathon, which is in two weeks! For those of you who donated to Lucy’s mom Cherisse for her run, thank you!!!

    Menu time!

    MONDAY:
    Pot Roast
    – Potatoes and another veggie

    TUESDAY:
    Hunt’s Bruschetta Chicken Skillet
    – Pasta and salad

    WEDNESDAY:
    – Happy Halloween! Pizza before we hit the streets!

    THURSDAY:
    – Eat out after soccer practice

    FRIDAY:
    – Lasagna

    SATURDAY:
    – Leftovers

    SUNDAY:
    Frittata (tomato, cheese, bell pepper)
    – Whole wheat toast and some fresh fruit

    You know the drill, folks. We want to see your menus, so get posting! 


  7. Friday, October 26, 2012

    {Food for Thought Friday} Fair Trade Cocoa

    One of my most favorite people I’ve met through blogging is Kristen Howerton from Rage Against the Minivan. Her blog is great, she’s a fantastic writer, and she’s even better in person, if you can believe it. The first time we hung out, we spent several hours just talking, you know, about those light topics new friends talk about…politics, religion, the purpose of life. She truly is a kindred spirit and I admire her very much. So, when Kristen posted about fair trade chocolate, well, it really got me thinking.

    I’ll be honest, I haven’t thought much about fair trade cocoa. I mean, I sort of have. But, as Kristen points out, when something doesn’t affect us or our family directly, we as humans tend to not take much notice. I’m definitely guilty of that in this case. Her post is very thought-provoking and I recommend you go read it. She includes video in the post of a BBC documentary that is even more thought-provoking and, at times, gut wrenching. I’m not going to go into details here because I’m still learning, but please go use Kristen’s post as a springboard to start informing yourself about the issue. That’s what I’m doing. And, after reading and watching what I can, I’m going to think long and hard about how what I’ve learned is going to change my behavior.

    My mom works for Mars and I grew up in a town next to the M&M factory. We could smell the M&Ms in the air in the mornings, which is a fond memory for me. I certainly have a soft spot for them. I did a little research to see what Mars has to say on the topic. Over 2009-2011 they invested $70 million in sustainability efforts and say they expect to (let’s hope they really do) spend $30 million annually going forward. As of 2012, 20% of their cocoa is certified sustainable. It’s a step. Which is good. But there is still a long way to go, and the press release, while encouraging, doesn’t explicitly mention child labor. I have a feeling, as with most of the big food issues, change will take time but what we choose to buy and eat will be powerful for effecting that change going forward.

    Last week at the DailyBuzz Food festival I was introduced to the company MadécasseMadécasse was founded by peace corps volunteers who lived in and fell in love with Madagascar. They decided they really wanted to make a positive impact on the country, so they started a chocolate company, one that doesn’t just source fair trade cocoa from Madagascar but also actually produces the chocolate in the country. This has 4 times the impact of straight up fair trade cocoa and is also good for the planet. The chocolate was delicious and it was really neat chatting with them and learning their story. Madécasse isn’t the only company out there trying to do right by cocoa, and it’s exciting to see thoughtfully-built companies like this doing such great things to make a difference. 

    The cookie nabber is also a chocolate nabber…


  8. Thursday, October 25, 2012

    Quick Tip for Decorating Cut Sugar Cookies with Yummy Frosting

    Halloween is JUST around the corner. I can’t believe it! My friend Rachel brought us some delicious and adorable Halloween cookies this week. I wanted to share them with you because she offered a really great tip for frosting Halloween cookies!

    I find each year when we make Halloween sugar cookies, I choose good-tasting frosting over beautiful frosting. I would just rather eat a sugar cookie with homemade buttercream or cream cheese frosting than with that totally-beautiful-but-not-quite-as-tasty royal icing. The problem? I rarely can spread the frosting on the cookie but make it still look like the cute shape that we cut the cookie out with!

    Thanks to Rachel I can have the best of both worlds! When she dropped her cookies, I couldn’t help but notice that, even with the frosting, they still looked like the shapes they were supposed to be. Here’s Rachel’s secret: she pipes the icing around the edge of the cookie, then uses an offset spatula to spread the frosting to the center. So simple! I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before and I am so glad she figured it out! It’s a different look than royal icing, but it’s still super cute and much more delicious.

    A cookie nabber arrives on the photo shoot…

    For the cookies pictured here, Rachel used these recipes from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. This particular frosting is a whipped cream cheese frosting, which tasted great and also had a bit of a sheen to it, which was really pretty. A few quick notes from Rachel on the recipe:

    • Refrigerate the dough for 30-60 minutes after mixing it together but before rolling it out.
    • Roll the cookies out thickly, thicker than you think you should. This particular recipe makes for a fluffy, thick sugar cookie.
    • Sprinkle a bit of white decorating sugar crystals on top of the frosting for extra pizazz!

    “Are you looking for the cookie nabber? I think he went that way. I had nothing to do with it.”


  9. Tuesday, October 23, 2012

    Chicken Parmesan, a Pantry Go-To Classic

    I have two stories of Italians from New Jersey for you today, both of which culminate with a delicious, easy go-to recipe for you!

    When I was in high school, a native-New Jersey Italian from church taught all the teenagers how to make tomato sauce. It was fast, it was easy, it was fresh-tasting and delicious. And when Mike was teaching us how to make that sauce, I’m sure he thought we weren’t paying attention. But I was and the technique stuck with me from then on. He just simply sauteed garlic and onion in olive oil, added some canned tomatoes and tomato paste, a few spices and that was it!

    On to the second story of Italians from New Jersey. A few years later when I was in college, my friend Patti was talking to me one day about how her new roommate didn’t really know how to do anything, you know, like pay bills, do laundry, all that “adult” stuff. I’ll never forget the culminating comment, “She can’t even throw together a simple chicken parmesan!” Spoken like a true Italian from Jersey, no? Anyway, when she said that to me, I just nodded and said, “Yeah, that’s crazy!” but inside I was thinking,”Hmmmm, I wonder how you throw together a simple chicken parmesan?” Thanks to Patti, I figured it out and it became one of my classic go-to meals.

    Which brings us to the promise of this post…an easy, go-to recipe! This chicken parmesan recipe is a great one to have up your sleeve. Essentially all you need is a couple of eggs, some bread crumbs, frozen chicken, pasta, a few basic spices, parmesan cheese and Hunt’s tomato paste and petite-diced canned tomatoes. Yes, I’m working with Hunt’s. And, yes, I actually do always have Hunt’s petite diced tomatoes in my cupboard, even before I started working with them. I love the petite diced tomatoes. They are perfect for making sauce and the FlashSteam process makes the tomatoes taste flavorful and fresh. You would never guess my sauce is made from canned tomatoes!

    So, get your cupboards stocked up and “go to” this recipe next time you’re in a dinner bind!


    Chicken Parmesan, a Pantry Go-To Classic
     
    From Jane Maynard, created after hearing Patti describe making chicken parm over the phone years ago
    Author:
    Recipe type: Main Dish
    Ingredients
    • 1 pound chicken tenders (if you use boneless, skinless breasts, be sure to pound them flat)
    • 1 cup plain bread crumbs
    • ½ cup fresh shredded parmesan
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    • ⅛ teaspoon pepper
    • ⅛ teaspoon paprika
    • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
    • ¼ teaspoon dried basil
    • 2 eggs
    • slices of fresh mozzarella
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degree F.
    2. Whisk the eggs in a soup/cereal bowl. In another cereal/soup bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, paprika, oregano and basil. Dip each raw chicken tender in the egg to coat, then place in bread crumbs and coat well. Place on lined cookie sheet.
    3. Cook for about 15 minutes, until they are JUST cooked through. Top with mozzarella cheese sliced and cook until cheese is melted, about 2-3 more minutes.
    Notes
    Note: I usually start cooking the sauce before I start prepping the chicken, so it can simmer while I make the pasta and chicken.

    Homemade Tomato Sauce
     
    From Jane Maynard, thanks to Mike’s inspiration even more years ago!
    Author:
    Recipe type: Main Dish
    Ingredients
    • 1 shallot or ½ onion, diced
    • 3-5 fresh garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
    • 2 cans Hunt’s petite diced tomatoes
    • 2 tablespoon tomato paste
    • 1 – 2 tablespoon sugar
    • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
    • ¾ teaspoon kosher or coarse salt
    • ½ teaspoon dried basil
    • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
    Instructions
    1. Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots/onions. Cook until soft, a few minutes. Add garlic and saute for about a minute. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to the point where the sauce still simmers (usually medium-low). Simmer for 15-20 minutes. While the sauce is simmering, you can smash the sauce up a bit with a ricer or pastry blender, to break up some of the tomatoes. I like my sauce chunky, so I just do this a little bit.
    2. Serve chicken with tomato sauce and cooked pasta.


  10. Sunday, October 21, 2012

    Week 300 Menu

    Wow! It’s my 300th menu on the blog! Let’s celebrate with whoopie pies!

    This weekend I went to the DailyBuzz Food Festival and it was so much fun! I essentially enjoyed 24 hours of delicious food being handed to me. That’s my kind of weekend. Yesterday afternoon was the Taste Pavillion, where a room full of local and artisan food companies sharing their goodies. My friend Rachel went with me and we were absolutely stuffed by the end. One of our favorite tables was After Suppa, a couple just starting a whoopie pie company. You know Nate and I love whoopie pies and he’s gone to great effort to educate me about their wonderfulness, as well as what a real whoopie pie should be like. When we walked up to the After Suppa table, I had a good feeling about their whoopie pies. The whoopie pies looked legit. The company name had the word “supper” in it, with the R dropped off, no less. And, after talking with them (the couple, not the whoopie pies), we found out they were from New Hampshire and the woman’s grandparents who inspired the whoopie pies were from Maine. BINGO. As you can guess, the whoopie pies were fabulous! I wish After Suppa great success in their new endeavors! And I’m glad somebody is bringing real whoopie pies to California!

    MONDAY:
    – Chicken parmesan (recipe to come on Tuesday!)
    – Pasta and veggies

    TUESDAY:
    Orange chicken
    – Rice and Veggie

    WEDNESDAY:
    – Leftovers

    THURSDAY:
    – Eat out after soccer practice

    FRIDAY:
    Homemade pizza

    SATURDAY:
    – Eat out (Nate won’t be around, so, I’m takin’ it easy and gettin’ lazy)

    SUNDAY:
    Tuscan Tomato Soup (Cate’s request…again! She requests it to so often!)
    Homemade rolls

    You know the drill…please share your menu for the week! And feel free to share it any day of the week – menus are welcome anytime!