Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Praline Party Mix

When I was trying to think of goodies that could be packaged up and mailed to friends for Christmas, I remembered seeing this version of a Chex mix and couldn't wait to try it.  

Pralines and cream is one of my top flavors of ice cream.....so I figured that anything boasting the praline flavor must be delicious.  Well, when you figure it's butter and brown sugar, what could possibly be bad about that?  And calories don't count. 

After I made the recipe and packaged it up, there was just a tiny bit left for snacking.  My mom enjoyed it so  much that she made several more batches to give to her friends and my dad's co-workers.  I lost track of how many cute treat bags she had.  Thankfully, she ended up with too much and we got to nibble on the leftovers for several days.

I have to admit, my mom's version was even better than mine - I think because she didn't use quite so many pretzels and used more cereal.  I left it the original way in the recipe - you can do how you choose.  I ended up using almonds and walnuts instead of pecans because they're a lot more affordable - and they were fantastic.  I'm sure pecans would be equally yummy, if they're in your budget.  

Maybe I should plant a pecan tree in my backyard.  I adore pecans.  When I was young, I remember my family going to my dad's work building and harvesting the pecans from some trees in the parking lot.  It was so much work to crack the nuts and pick out the meats....but definitely worth it.  

Praline Party Mix (adapted slightly from The Sweets Life)

1 (16 oz) bag of pretzels (sticks, rounds, or knots)
1 box Crispex or Rice Chex cereal
3 cups raw almonds, walnuts, or pecans - or mixture of all
1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 250°.
Combine pretzels, cereal, and pecans in a large bowl and set aside.
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt until it boils, stirring constantly. Boil for 4 minutes, stirring from time to time (the mixture will bubble and froth).
Remove from heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla.
Pour the mixture over the cereal mix and stir until well coated.
Lay the cereal mixture in a large roasting pan or on cookie sheets and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and spread mixture on wax paper until cool. Store in containers with lids or zip-lock bags until ready to eat!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Olive Garden Pasta e Fagioli Soup Copycat Recipe

I love good hearty soups all year round, but everyone knows they're best during the cold months.
Speaking of cold, I had forgotten how cold Arkansas can get.  
We've had multiple nights in the upper-teens the past few weeks......I don't know if Virginia ever got that cold the entire nine years we lived there.

I have love the Olive Garden's Soup and Salad all you can eat lunch for years....and Pasta e Fagioli has always been my favorite.  (although never mind asking me to say it properly. I just point to it on the menu. Don't laugh.)

So I was super excited when I saw that Jaclyn from Cooking Classy had posted her version of the soup.  I had to try it out the very next week.  

We absolutely loved it.  
So positively delicious.  While I haven't eaten soup at the Olive Garden in a few years, I am certain that this soup is superior. And it's healthy, too.  
Thank goodness we liked it, because this made a huge batch.  
Grant's only complaint about it was the red kidney beans.  He thought they looked really nice, but
they're just not a bean he cares for too much.  So next time I might
substitute in another bean for him....but I liked the kidney beans just fine.  

Olive Garden Pasta e Fagioli Soup Copycat Recipe (adapted slightly from Cooking Classy)

2 lbs lean ground turkey, ground beef, or Italian sausage
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 large carrots, diced
3-4 stalks celery, diced
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced finely
32 oz. tomato sauce (approximate - can be a little more or less)
1 quart vegetable broth (beef or chicken work well also)
1-1/2 cups water
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp. dried basil
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
3/4 tsp. dried majoram
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1-1/2 cups ditalini pasta, uncooked
1 (15 oz) can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
Parmesan or Romano cheese, for serving


Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large stock pan over medium high heat.  Crumble in ground meat and cook, stirring occasionally, until no pink remains.  Drain meat and set aside.  In the same pan, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil and saute carrots, celery, and onion over medium-high heat until tender.  Add garlic and saute 1 minute longer.  Reduce heat to low; add tomato sauce, broth, water, canned tomatoes, sugar, basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, cooked meat, and salt and pepper to taste. 
Cover with lid and allow to simmer at a low boil 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until veggies are soft.  Add pasta to pot and cook for 5 minutes.  Add beans and cook 5 minutes longer, or until pasta is tender.  
Serve warm with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, if desired.   

Note: The longer the soup sits, the more liquid the pasta will absorb.  Thin it with additional broth if desired. 
I ended up adding an extra 8 oz can of tomato sauce with a couple of cups of water and a little more spices to the leftovers the second day, as it had become more like a casserole.  It was still super delicious. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad - SRC

We have been in our new house for just over a week now.....and while we only have a couple of photos on the wall (where the previous owners had left nails), we have gotten through enough of the boxes to find the essentials and settle in, somewhat.
Having the flu sweep through our family certainly hasn't helped the process. It's hard to get anything done when you're caring for sick kiddos.  And poor Grant was hit hardest of all.  Me, well, I'm escaping with just a few days of body aches and some serious congestion - no body-racking coughs or fevers.

But it's reveal day for my Secret Recipe Club group - so I had to make a little time for blogging.

This time I was assigned to La Phemme Phoodie.  Wendy is a lawyer by day, a foodie all the rest of the time.  She has some great articles on her blog about legal issues in food blogging, such as Recipe Attribution
and Trademark Infringement, along with several others.   She also has quite a few gluten-free recipes that sound so tempting, like Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes and Lemon Blueberry Bars with Coconut Crust..

But when I saw the recipe for this salad, I knew I just had to try it.  The spicy chipotle peppers are tempered by the mellow sour cream and tangy lime juice in the dressing, and the combination of crisp greens with the Tex-Mex ingredients is delightful.

The dressing is very thick, so it doesn't pour very well, but when you give everything good toss, it ends up coating the salad quite nicely.  The original recipe called for quite a bit of cilanto.  They say either you love or hate cilantro. Grant is definitely in the "hate" category.  He despises the stuff.  So I left it out.

The recipe also called for avocado - but since I seem to have developed a sensitivity to it (it gives me a horrible stomach ache for hours afterwards - has anyone else ever heard of/experienced that??) I omitted it also.

I decided to saute the chicken in barbecue sauce instead of just plain roasting it - we loved it, but you could certainly cook the chicken seasoned however you prefer.

My girls thought this was a little on the spicy side, but Grant, Corban, and I thought it was great.  Grant even went so far as to say it was one of his favorite meals.  Hands down.  He doesn't say that often, so I know that it's a real winner.

Thanks, Wendy, for inspiring this awesome salad!!

Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad (adapted from La Phemme Phoodie)

2/3 cup light sour cream
1 T. minced chipotle chile, canned in adobe sauce
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground chili powder
4-5 tsp. fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

1-1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 T. oil
1/4 cup barbecue sauce

3 cups chopped fresh spinach leaves
3-4 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen corn (toss in colandar with beans and rinse with hot water to thaw)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup diced peeled avocado (optional)

Corn chips, for serving


To prepare dressing, combine the first 7 ingredients, whisking well.  Stir in cilantro, if desired.  Set aside.

To prepare salad, begin with the chicken.  (If you have leftover roasted or cooked chicken, you can substitute it with no problems).  Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.  Heat the oil in a large skillet, add chicken and barbecue sauce, and cook over medium heat until no pink remains in chicken.

In a large bowl, combine the spinach, romaine, tomatoes, red onion, beans, corn, cheese, avocado, and cooked chicken.  Pour dressing over the top and stir gently to coat evenly. Serve immediately.

If you think you'll have leftovers, I recommend keeping the chicken and dressing in separate containers from the salad, so nothing gets soggy or wilted.

I forgot to add the cheese for the photos.  We added it at the table.  Delish! 

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