Recipe—Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars

Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars

Peanut and butter jelly sandwiches are an American classic. I love PB & Js! And by love I mean I REAAAALLLLLLY love them! I ate more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during my pregnancy than the typical American child does in their first 10 years of life. There is just something so nostalgic about smooth peanut butter squished together with a layer of sweet sticky jelly. It is one of those items that takes me back to being a little girl on the playground. When I saw this recipe for peanut butter and jelly bars I knew they had to be mine! My son’s school had a bake sale coming up and I knew it was the perfect occasion to make these. Come on? Toddlers… peanut butter and jelly… they belong together! These bars turned out fabulous! The cookie layer is almost brownie like, the moistest peanut butter cookie you have ever had and then of course you have the layer of jelly and then just the right amount of crunch from the honey roasted peanuts on top. Superb when served with a big cold glass of milk. I may have a new addiction.

Note: These can be tricky to cut when still warm so be sure to allow for adequate chilling time. Otherwise you may find that the bars sort of crumble.

INGREDIENTS
1 c butter, softened
1 1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 c creamy peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 c flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 c of your favorite jelly (I used Strawberry)
1 c honey roasted peanuts, chopped

STEPS

  • Preheat oven to 350º.
  • In a large mixing bowl beat together the butter and sugar for 2 minutes.
  • Add in the eggs, peanut butter, and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes making sure it’s completely combined.
  • In another bowl combine the flour, salt, and baking powder.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and fold in using a rubber spatula until completely combined.
  • Line a 9” x 13” baking dish with parchment paper going both directions and spray parchment paper with cooking spray.
  • Transfer 2/3 of your dough to the prepared baking dish and spread the dough out evenly.
  • Press the dough down firmly in the bottom of the entire baking dish making sure it’s even thickness all over.
  • Place the jelly in a small microwave safe bowl and warm it in the microwave for 1 minute and stir using a fork (this really seems to help in spreading it out).
  • Using a rubber spatula spread the warmed jelly over the top of the cookie dough making sure the dough is completely covered.
  • Using your hands, crumble the remaining dough over the top of the jelly.
  • Sprinkle the chopped peanuts over the top.
  • Bake until golden, about 50–60 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the oven and set on a trivet to cool for 30minutes.
  • Holding onto the parchment paper, carefully lift the entire contents of the dish and transfer to a large cutting board.
  • Refrigerate the whole dish for 1–2 hours making sure it is completely cool before trying to cut into bars.
  • After bars have cooled cut into squares using a sharp knife or even a pizza wheel.
  • Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
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Recipe—Honey Pecan Crusted Salmon

Honey Pecan Crusted Salmon

I remember when I was younger going to a restaurant with my dad and ordering the honey pecan crusted salmon. It was one of those dishes you never forget. It was unlike anything I had ever had before. The pecan crust brings a wonderful texture to the salmon filet, just the right amount of crunch. And that nutty pecan flavor with the sweet honey mustard glaze turns the ordinary salmon filet into something truly wonderful. While this dish may look more complex it actually is a really easy way to prepare salmon. Between prep and baking you are looking at no more than 30 minutes. Thirty minutes for a spectacular dinner, you can’t beat that! I served this with a really simple salad of butter leaf lettuce and red onions and some honey mustard dressing. It was really light and the simple salad was a perfect complement to the savory fish. Even if your family members aren’t big fish fans I’m sure they will love this.

INGREDIENTS
2 salmon filets
salt and pepper
paprika
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 c pecans, finely chopped
1/4 c fresh parsley chopped

STEPS

  • Preheat oven to 400º.
  • Rinse off your fish filets and pat dry.
  • Season your filets with salt, pepper, and paprika.
  • Place skin side down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
  • Whisk together the mustard, honey, butter, and Worcestershire.
  • In a small bowl combine the pecans and parsley.
  • Spoon a tablespoon worth of the sauce in with the nuts and stir to combine.
  • Brush the remaining sauce onto the salmon filets.
  • Press the sticky pecan mixture to the top of your salmon filets.
  • Place the baking sheet in the oven and cook for 15–18 minutes or until the thickest part of the fish flakes off when tested with a fork.

Recipe—Chicken and Cheese Stuffed Sammy

Chicken and Cheese Stuffed Sammy

I am in love with almost any recipe that can be prepared in advance and then just tossed in the oven. This recipe is one of those! I recently made it when a couple of friends would be stopping by for lunch. It was a quick visit so I knew I didn’t want to be in the kitchen while they were there. I assembled the whole thing that morning and then just put it in the oven when they arrived. Not only is great if you are having a couple of guests over for lunch but it is perfect for a picnic or even camping. You can make the sandwich ahead of time and then just toss the foil wrapped sandwich on the grille and turn it once or twice to keep the bottom from getting too crisp.

This sandwich is made in one large sourdough loaf that can be cut into 3-5 individual servings. It is literally packed with delicious flavors that go together really well. There’s just something perfect about the combination of hearty chicken pieces and thinly sliced pastrami, especially when smothered with gooey melted Swiss cheese and pressed together with perfectly toasted bread. I promise that you won’t find anything like this is your local deli. De-lish!

INGREDIENTS
large sourdough loaf
Dijon mustard
mayonnaise
1 1/2 c Swiss, shredded
1/2 lb sliced pastrami
2 c shredded rotisserie chicken
1/2 c roasted red bell peppers
3 thin slices of red onion
salt and pepper

STEPS

  • Preheat oven to 400º.
  • Cut an oval out of the top of the loaf and remove it.
  • Tear out the inside of the bread leaving 1/2” thick bread shell.
  • Spread mayonnaise and Dijon mustard on the inside of the loaf and the underside of the lid.
  • Sprinkle half of the shredded Swiss in the bottom of the bread shell.
  • Layer in pastrami, shredded chicken, roasted red peppers, onions, and remaining cheese.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Place the sandwich lid back in place and wrap tightly in foil.
  • Bake for 20–22 minutes or until the cheese is melted and all of the ingredients are warmed through.
  • Remove sandwich from foil and place on cutting board.
  • Cut into desired number of servings.

Recipe—Cheesy Sausage Pasta

Cheesy Sausage Pasta

I can make a mean batch of homemade macaroni and cheese but the classic dish just doesn’t cut it as a main course in our house. Sometimes you need a grown up version of the classic dish but with a little more substance. This right here fits that bill. It is a creamy cheesy pasta dish with bits of tomatoes and sliced up smoky beef sausage. Delish! This is the perfect meal for a busy day since the whole things takes less than 25 minutes AND it only uses one pot! I love meals like that! Makes dish duty so much easier. Who am I kidding? I don’t do dishes. That’s the hubby’s job, so this recipe makes his job easier. This comfort dish screams simplicity and is easy on the wallet too. What’s not to love?

DivaDiCucina_CheesySausagePasta2

Note: This recipe is written to use a cast iron skillet. If you don’t have one, no biggie. Just use whatever large skillet you have and before placing in the oven transfer the pasta to a large baking dish and then top with the green onions and cheese and finish off under the broiler.

INGREDIENTS
1 tbsp olive oil
1 package beef sausage cut into rounds
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 tsp garlic, minced
2 c chicken broth
14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 tsp pepper
8 oz uncooked penne pasta noodles
2 c Monterey jack cheese, shredded
2 green onions, thinly sliced
salt

STEPS

  • Heat oil over medium high heat in a cast iron skillet.
  • Add the sausage and onion and cook until lightly browned.
  • Add in the garlic and cook for another minute.
  • Add the chicken broth, petite diced tomatoes, heavy cream, and pepper.
  • Bring to a boil.
  • Add pasta and simmer until the pasta is tender, about 12–15 minutes, stirring once or twice while cooking.
  • Turn on the oven broiler.
  • Remove the skillet from heat and stir in 1 cup of the cheese.
  • Add salt as needed.
  • Top with the green onions and remaining cheese.
  • Place skillet under the broiler and leave in the oven until the cheese is melted and lightly browned.

Recipe—Roasted Garlic and Cauliflower Mash

Roasted Garlic and Cauliflower Mash

As I’ve mentioned in some of my previous posts I am always looking for delicious low-carb recipes. One of my weaknesses is steak and potatoes. I will eat potatoes in any form. Mashed, au gratin, baked, you name it! One of the closest substitutions that I have found for potatoes when watching my carbs is cauliflower.  Last year I posted a recipe for loaded baked cauliflower. It is now by far my most popular recipe on my blog. (If you haven’t tried it, do. It is fantastic!) This is another wonderful cauliflower recipe I have been loving when I need something to replace those starchy potatoes. The mild roasted garlic flavor is not overpowering at all, and the Romano cheese is just right.  These flavors really are fantastic complements to the roasted cauliflower. Cauliflower is in season right now so it is incredibly affordable and a great addition to your dinner menu.

Note: This recipe can be made up to a day ahead of time and placed in an oven safe baking dish in the fridge until ready to eat. To reheat it, bake in the oven at 350º for 20–25 minutes or until hot all the way through. 

INGREDIENTS
1 head of cauliflower, washed and broken up into florets
4–6 cloves garlic, peeled
4 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
4 tbsp butter
1/3 c heavy cream
1/3 c Romano cheese
2 green onions, chopped

STEPS

  • Preheat oven to 350º.
  • Lay out two large sheets of aluminum foil on top of each other.
  • Place the cauliflower florets and garlic cloves in the middle of the foil.
  • Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Bake for 55–60 minutes or until the cauliflower is fork tender.
  • Place the roasted cauliflower and garlic in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add the butter and cream.
  • Using an electric mixer or a hand held masher, mash the cauliflower until desired consistency. (Add more cream if needed.)
  • Stir in the Romano cheese and season with additional salt and pepper if desired.
  • Serve the mashed cauliflower and garnish with chopped green onions.

Recipe—Taco Seasoning

Taco Seasoning

We have all probably bought an envelope of premade taco seasoning at the store one time or another. I used to get it almost weekly being that tacos are a regular dinner item in our house. One night I was out of the conveniently prepackaged mix and went into panic mode. Then I realized I probably already have all those same ingredients in my pantry. It took some finagling but this recipe is what I came up with. It turned out great! It probably has less sodium and fewer preservatives than what I was buying at the store. Best of all, it is cheaper to make your own. And who doesn’t like saving money these days?

Beef Tacos

Note:  This seasoning is great for chicken or beef. This proportion is for 1 lb worth of meat. Feel free to make a quadruple batch or more so that you have it ready to go in the future. If you make a large batch, use 3 heaping tablespoons of the premade seasoning per one pound of meat.

INGREDIENTS
1 tbsp dried minced onion
2 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (or 1 tsp table salt)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional, add if you like it on the spicy side)

STEPS

  • Put all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir to mix.
  • Cook one pound of meat in a large skillet until almost completely cooked.
  • Add in 1/4 cup of water and the mixed seasoning.
  • Continue to cook until meat is done and the liquid is cooked off.

It’s Not Aspen

Back in October my friend told me about a contest hosted by Cupcake Vineyards. To enter you had to upload a picture of a dessert to Instagram and then come up with a name for one of their upcoming wine blends inspired by your picture. I was game! I figured what do I have to loose? The grand prize was an all expense paid trip for two to Aspen Colorado for the 2013 Food and Wine Classic. A foodie’s dream come true! I didn’t think I stood a chance, but what did I have to loose?

I submitted the picture below of my chocolate cherry baby cakes (chocolate cupcakes with a cherry pie filling toped with a chocolate ganache and a cherry on top) and came up with the name Black Forest. I imagined a red wine with cherry notes.  If you aren’t familiar with Cupcake wines I will fill you in. Desserts inspire their most popular wines. For example they have a red wine called Red Velvet and a white wine called Angel Food. I thought my submission was pretty basic but would make any judge’s mouth water.

Chocolate Cherry Baby Cakes

4 months later… I received an email from someone at a large marketing firm in New York notifying me that I was the “potential GRAND PRIZE WINNER.”

WHAT?!?! I nearly died! No way! But what did “potential” mean? I followed their instructions and contacted them via email.  I quickly got a response. All it said was, “Can you confirm you live in California?”

I enthusiastically replied, “Yes! That is correct!”

While waiting for a response I started dreaming of what an awesome getaway it would be. Fantasies of meeting some of the greatest chefs danced through my head. My belly was delighted at the thought of enjoying some of the most delicious cuisine ever. I knew my husband and I would enjoy every minute of our getaway to Aspen. I squealed with joy and shared the awesome news with all my coworkers. I had actually won! Holy crap!

Minutes later, I received another reply saying they regretted to inform me, but I had been disqualified. Are you kidding me?!?! Dis-freaking-qualified! Apparently California is the only state in the U.S. that prohibits residents from receiving prizes from contests hosted or sponsored by alcohol companies. How could this be possible? My dream prize was at my fingertips and then just snatched out of my reach in an instant.

I begged and pleaded and asked if there was anything I could do but there wasn’t. I even told them I had family members out of state as though that would do me any good. I was grasping, I know. They did try and cheer me up by letting me know that California had repealed the law so as of 2013 I may now participate in these sorts of contests. What good does that do me right now?

Heartbroken and devastated, it suddenly dawned on me what the “potential” meant. They had to confirm I met all the regulations. Uggghhhhh… I had won, but then again not really at all. (I won’t deny, lots of profanity spewed from my mouth.)

It was a very weird mix of emotions. I was definitely devastated and really pissed off that I didn’t get this prize of a lifetime but at the same time I was pretty darn stoked. Had it not been for this one stupid California law I would have received my first recognition as an amateur cook. Won my first ever contest that was because of my talent, not just because of good luck. That is a really rewarding feeling, so I am moving on.

Cupcake Vineyards, being the awesome company they are, did send me a consolation prize. These 3 fabulous bottles arrived at my doorstep last week. And while it’s not Aspen, being the wine lover I am, free wine is pretty freaking fabulous too. I’ll take my consolation prize and drink it all thank you very much.

Cupcake Wine

Recipe—Shrimp Gratin

Shrimp Gratin

This recipe actually originated as a seafood gratin recipe, however I’m not a huge fan of lots of mystery fish thrown together so I adapted the recipe to suit my taste, and shrimp are my taste. This sauce ends up being creamy and rich and goes great with the shrimp and seasoned panko topping. This really is decadent enough to be served for a special occasion but also quick and easy enough for any night of the week. If you are scrambling to figure out what to do for Valentine’s Day dinner give this fabulous recipe a shot. Your sweetie won’t be disappointed, especially since you won’t have to spend the whole night in the kitchen. Throw together some greens for a salad and a French baguette to soak up the sauce and you have a romantic dinner in less than 40 minutes.

Note: This recipe is perfect for entertaining because all the prep and assembly (minus the panko topping) can be done well in advance to save time when your guests are over. Just make the recipe earlier in the day, put it in the baking dish or ramekins, cover with plastic wrap, and store in the fridge until ready to bake. Remove the dish(es) from the fridge a few minutes before placing in the oven, sprinkle with the panko topping and bake for 20 or so minutes.

INGREDIENTS
1 c clam juice
1 c heavy cream
1/2 c white wine
3 tbsp tomato sauce
2–2 1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 tbsp butter, divided
2 large leeks (whites and greens), washed and thinly sliced
1 c carrots, shredded
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 tbsp flour
1/2 c panko
1/3 c Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp garlic, minced

STEPS

  • Combine the clam juice, cream, wine, and tomato sauce in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat.
  • Simmer until the sauce is reduced by almost half, about 12–14 minutes.
  • While the sauce is simmering, in a medium sauté pan melt 5 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat.
  • Add the leeks and carrots and cook for 5 minutes or until tender.
  • Season the veggies with salt and pepper and stir in the flour and heat for 1 minute.
  • Place the shrimp into the pot of sauce and cook for 2–3 minutes.
  • Add the cooked veggies to the pot with the sauce and shrimp and stir to combine. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 375º.
  • In a small bowl combine the panko, Parmesan, parsley, and garlic. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and drizzle it over the crumbs. Toss with a fork to combine.
  • Transfer the saucy shrimp to one large baking dish or 4 individual ramekins.
  • Sprinkle the panko mixture evenly over the top of the shrimp.
  • Bake for 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the sauce is bubbly.

Recipe—Chubby Chicken Taquitos

Chubby Chicken Taquitos

This is one of the snacks I whipped up for my Super Bowl get together a couple weeks back and they turned out AMAZING! I find many of the store bought taquitos are too much tortilla, not enough meat. That is not the case with these, hence the name chubby chicken taquitos. These things are stuffed with all sorts of delicious flavors. In fact they were so filling I think they would even make an awesome meal. These aren’t spicy in the least so they are great for the whole family. Keep these in mind for a fun dinner or even your next fiesta!

Note: The recipe is written for baked taquitos but I fried half and baked half just to compare. They were equally good but the fried ones had a nice light crisp to them that was wonderful. Feel free to use your preferred cooking method.

INGREDIENTS
3 chicken breasts
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1/3 c green salsa
juice from 1/2 a lime
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 tbsp sliced green onions
1 1/2 c jack cheese
10–12 soft taco sized flour tortillas
cooking spray
kosher salt

DIPPING SAUCES
salsa
sour Cream
guacamole

STEPS

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add chicken breasts.
  • Boil chicken breast for 20–25 minutes.
  • While the chicken is boiling, combine the cream cheese, salsa, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, onion powder, and garlic in a large mixing bowl.
  • Stir in the cilantro, green onions, and cheese.
  • Set the filling mixture aside.
  • Remove chicken from pot and place on a large cutting board to cool.
  • Using a large fork shred the chicken breasts to pieces.
  • Preheat oven to 400º.
  • Heat 3–4 tortillas for 30 seconds in the microwave (This makes them soft and easier to work with.)
  • Spoon some of the chicken filling down the center of the tortilla and roll tightly.
  • Place the finished taquitos seam side down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet making sure they don’t touch.
  • Repeat with the remaining tortillas and filling until gone.
  • Spray the tops of the taquitos with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt.
  • Bake for 15–20 minutes or until crisp and golden.
  • Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

Recipe—Valentine’s Day Snack Mix

DivaDiCucina_ValentinesSnackMix

If you are on Pinterest then you have probably seen one form or another of “Puppy Chow” snack mixes. (Basically a super sweet treat made from chocolate covered Chex cereal and tossed with other tasty goods.) These snack mixes are popping up everywhere! I saw one the other day for Valentine’s Day that looked super cute. I liked the idea of doing something like this for my son and all his little classmates at school but thought his teacher’s may not appreciate it if I get a classroom full of 2 and 3 year olds all hopped up on sugar. I decided to create this lower sugar version snack mix that is great for people of all ages. Have fun mixing any and all of your favorite bite size snacks!

Note: This recipe makes enough to fill 24–26 snack size Ziploc bags or 1 large bowl.

DivaDiCucina_ValentinesSnackMix2

Here are my final goodie bags. I made some cute tags that I folded in half and stapled over the top.

INGREDIENTS
15.5 oz box Strawberry Frosted Mini Wheats
10 oz box Honey Teddy Grahams
2 c yogurt covered raisins
2 c raspberry yogurt covered pretzels
1 1/2 c dried cranberries
1.25 oz yo’ drops crunchable yogurt

STEPS

  • Combine all ingredients and one large bowl and use a large serving spoon or scoop to mix together gently.
  • Divide mix into snack size bags or serve in one large bowl.
  • Enjoy!

Happy Valentine’s Day!