Dinner for Two

Note: My oven decided to not work (of course! :)). Therefore, your spinach will look much nicer than mine… My sincerest apologies. It’s been quite the week!

My favorite way to celebrate Valentine’s Day is to cook a nice dinner and enjoy it with my husband. It’s quiet and romantic. I choose a nicer menu and we enjoy it after our rowdy boys are in bed. These easy recipes are sure to impress!

FILET MIGNON w/BALSAMIC REDUCTION
(Adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis)
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1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1 Tb. sugar 
1 Tb. butter
2 (5 to 6-oz.) filet mignon steaks (each about 1-inch thick)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 oz. goat cheese, gorgonzola, or bleu cheese

Boil the balsamic vinegar and sugar in a heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat until reduced, stirring occasionally, about 18 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Melt the butter in a heavy, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Pat filet dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook the steaks to desired doneness, about 4 – 4 1/2 minutes per side for medium.  Crumble the cheese over the steaks and broil just until the cheese melts, about 1 minute. Sprinkle with pepper.

Transfer the steaks to plates. Drizzle the balsamic sauce and serve.

GARLIC ROASTED POTATOES
(adapted from Ina Garten)
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1 pound small fingerling or red potatoes 
 2 Tb. good olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. minced fresh parsley (opt.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the potatoes in quarters and place in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic; toss until the potatoes are well coated. Transfer the potatoes to a sheet pan and spread out into 1 layer. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until browned and crisp. Flip twice with a spatula during cooking in order to ensure even browning.

Remove the potatoes from the oven, toss with parsley, season to taste, and serve hot.

CREAMY SPINACH
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1 Tb. butter
1 sm. onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (16 oz.) package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 c. heavy cream
Salt & Pepper to taste
Dash of nutmeg
3 Tb. fresh grated parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 c. shredded swiss cheese

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Melt butter in a skillet. Add onion and garlic and saute until tender. Add the spinach and cook until warm. Stir in cream, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook for 2-3 more minutes or until slightly reduced and creamy. Remove from heat and  stir in swiss cheese and 2 Tb. parmesan. Divide between 3-4 ramekins. Top with remaining parmesan and bake for 15 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is melted.   

CARAMEL MACCHIATO CHEESECAKE
(adapted from allrecipes.com)
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2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/2 c. butter, melted
2 Tb. white sugar

FILLING:
3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
1 c. white sugar
3 eggs
1 (8 oz,) container sour cream
1/4 c. brewed espresso or strong coffee
2 tsp. vanilla extract

GARNISH:
Caramel ice cream topping
Fresh whipped cream
Grated Chocolate or Hard shell Chocolate Sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and 2 tablespoons of sugar until well combined. Press into the bottom of the prepared springform pan, and 1 inch up the sides. Bake in preheated oven for 8 minutes, then remove to cool on a wire rack.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Beat the softened cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer until fluffy. Gradually add 1 cup of sugar, beating until blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in sour cream, espresso and vanilla. Pour batter into the baked and cooled crust.

Bake cheesecake in the preheated oven for 1 hour and 5 minutes; then turn the oven off, partially open the door and allow the cheesecake to rest for 15 minutes more. Remove from the oven, and run a knife around the edges. Cool cheesecake on a wire rack to room temperature, then cover the springform pan with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for 8 hours.

To serve, cut the cheesecake into wedges and garnish each slice with whipped cream, caramel sauce drizzle, and chocolate curls OR spread caramel sauce on top of cheesecake and drizzle with hard shell chocolate.

Or if you prefer a simpler dessert, I recommend one of these desserts or perhaps a cappucino and cookie. Enjoy!

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Simple Suppers: Pasta

In the interest of dairy this week, I’m offering two recipes for pasta that use various dairy products. I hope you enjoy!

My kids LOVE macaroni and cheese. They request it for birthdays and would probably eat it every day if I would let them. This easy macaroni and cheese is done entirely on the stove. It’s makes a great side dish, a simple supper, or a quick lunch. I will say that while it’s not my very favorite macaroni and cheese (I’ll post that recipe one of these days, I promise!), it was very creamy, decadent, and good. The boys gave it a thumbs up!   

MACARONI & CHEESE
(adapted from Alton Brown)
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1/2 lb. elbow macaroni
4 Tb. butter
2 eggs
6 oz. evaporated milk
3 dashes hot sauce
1 tsp. kosher salt
Fresh black pepper 
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
10 oz. cheese, shredded (I used co-jack and monterey jack b/c that’s what I had) 

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente and drain. Return to the pot and melt in the butter. Toss to coat.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese. Over low heat, continue to stir for 3 minutes or until creamy (I did it the full 3 minutes since it had the eggs in it).

The first time I ever tried pasta carbonara was actually in Kazakhstan. It was very tasty but I have never tried making it. I was pleased at how easy and delicious this recipe is!

PASTA CARBONARA
(adapted from  Tyler Florence)
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1 lb. dry spaghetti
2 Tb. extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz. bacon, sliced into small strips
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 lg. eggs
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan Cheese, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped (I clearly had less – my plant isn’t doing too well these days)

Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain the pasta well, reserving 1 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and saute for about 3 minutes, until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered. Toss the garlic into the fat and saute for less than 1 minute to soften.

Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the bacon fat. Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (this is done off the heat to ensure this does not happen.) Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency. Season the carbonara with freshly ground black pepper and taste for salt. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into warm serving bowls and garnish with chopped parsley. Pass more cheese around the table.

Market Fresh: Eggs

We could really spend weeks on this topic, but this week, we will be featuring dairy products: milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs.

Fresh eggs are one of my absolute favorite things to get at the farmer’s market. They are delicious and just by the color of the yolk, you can see how nutrient-rich they are. Knowing the grower’s and knowing how the chickens are raised ensures a wonderful quality of eggs.

Egg Salad is a great way use eggs. It’s easy and makes a beautiful sandwich!

EGG SALAD
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6 hard-boiled eggs
1 Tb. onion, finely minced
2 Tb. dill relish
2 Tb. Mayonnaise
1 tsp. pickle juice (just get some from the relish jar)
1 tsp. mustard
1/2 tsp. sugar
dash cayenne pepper
salt & pepper to taste

Dice the egg. Add onion and they rest of the ingredients. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve on a bed of lettuce or as a sandwich filling (butter bread and add lettuce if desired).

This egg dish is great for a quick meal any time of the day! You can use whatever vegetables and ingredients you have on hand – be creative!


OVEN OMELET
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1/2 lb. sausage
2 Tb. butter
1 1/2 c. shredded potato (I used frozen shredded hashbrowns)
1 bell pepper (I used orange which was so good & sweet)
4 green onions, chopped
1 1/2 c. shredded cheese
8 lg. eggs
1 c. milk
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a 10-12 inch oven-safe skillet (cast iron or any other oven safe skillet) over med.-high heat, brown sausage and drain. Saute sausage, potatoes, pepper,  and onion in 2 Tb. butter until tender. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, milk, salt, & pepper in a separate bowl. Turn off heat. Spread vegetable & meat mixture evenly over the bottom of the skillet. Sprinkle half of the cheese over it. Pour eggs  mixture evenly over the skillet. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

Transfer skillet to oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until completely set. Cut in wedges and serve hot. Makes 4-5 servings.

Entertaining 101: Fondue

One idea for a perfect New Year’s Eve menu is fondue! A fondue feast is a delightfully interactive and delicious meal. You can cook fondue by heating oil or chicken stock in a fondue pot and cooking various meats and vegetables. Having several different dipping sauces makes it all the more tasty.

For a simpler fondue evening, make a pot of cheese fondue and a pot of chocolate fondue. I like to serve the cheese with three or four of the following: bread, carrots, cauliflower, celery, apple, and salami but you can use whatever you prefer. Make sure and provide dipping forks and individual plates for each guest. I like to serve chocolate fondue with an assortment of five or six things like bananas, strawberries, cherries, blackberries, pineapple, marshmallows, rice krispie treats, shortbread, thin butter cookies, and brownies. So delicious!

CHEDDAR CHEESE FONDUE
1 c. chicken stock
1 c. white wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. – 1 1/2 lb. cheddar cheese, shredded
Fresh ground pepper

Bring stock and wine to a simmer. Stir in garlic. Slowly add cheese until desired thickness is reached. Finish with fresh ground pepper.

CHOCOLATE TURTLE FONDUE
2 c. heavy cream
1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c. caramel nibs or a caramel sauce
1/2 -1 c. chopped pecans, toasted

Heat cream until just beginning to bubble around the edges – stirring constantly. Add chocolate chips and stir to melt. Add caramel and continue to stir until combined (or swirl if using caramel sauce). Fold in pecans or sprinkle on top. Enjoy with fruit and goodies for dipping.

Entertaining 101: Easy Appetizers

I (Alaina) like to provide a couple of appetizers when people arrive so I can put the finishing touches on dinner. Fresh veggies and dip are a great option as well as an assortment of olives or a cheese & fruit platter. My advice is to keep appetizers simple and light. Here are just a few of our favorite recipes – they would also be suitable for snacks at a party.

This brie is probably my all-time favorite appetizer. It’s easy, delicious and gourmet. I buy the brie at Costco – it’s under $6 for a 27 oz. or so wheel of baby brie. I serve it with crackers and/or bread, pears, and apples.

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HONEY FRUIT & NUT BRIE
Alaina

1/2 c. dried cranberries or cherries
1/2 c. pecans, walnuts, or almonds, coarsely chopped
2 Tb. butter
1/3 c. honey
1 lg. round of brie

Saute pecans in butter. Combine fruit, nuts, and honey. Cut rind off top of brie. Pour fruit & nut mixture over brie. Bake in oven until melted or you can  microwave it for a couple of minutes until soft and melty. Serve with crackers, bread cubes, and/or fruit slices.

This is perhaps one of the easiest appetizers. It is delicious! You can use any kind of preserves but my favorite is cherry. I generally choose a jar of locally made preserves – they taste so fresh.

FRUITED CREAM CHEESE
Alaina

1 – 8oz. block or tub of cream cheese (can use reduced fat)
1 jar of preserves

Spread cream cheese on a plate and top with preserves. Serve with crackers,

This delicious hummus recipe is from Heather. This dip looks so festive surrounded by blue corn tortilla chips. You could also serve it with fresh vegetables, crackers, or pita wedges.

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SUN-DRIED TOMATO HUMMUS
Heather

4-5 sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in boiling water for about 15 minutes
2 (15.5 ounce) cans chick peas, drained
1/4 c. olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt & pepper
1-2 tsp. ground cumin (to taste)

Put the soaked sun-dried tomatoes, chick peas, olive oil, and lemon into a food processor and process until a smooth consistency is formed. If you feel it is too thick, you can either add more olive oil, or a few teaspoons of water. Add salt, pepper, and cumin to taste. Keeps for several days in the refrigerator.