Monday, September 15, 2014

Spice Rubs: Thinking Outside The Box

I have fallen in love with spice rubs lately. I love marinades too, but I've been using so many herbs and spices in dry rubs on chicken and fish these days and the flavor is just so amazing! Dried spices are such a fantastic way to add flavor to a typical weeknight throw-together dinner like the one I'm going to share with you.

I've said many times that I love Penzeys spices, their blends are amazing and the quality of all the spices they offer is really top shelf.  I recently put in an order (kosher salt, oregano, dried sage...if you're randomly curious) and got a free sample jar of their Tsardust Memories Seasoning. I love the clever name, but wasn't quite sure what to do with the flavors until I read the ingredients more closely: salt, garlic, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and marjoram. With a few other additions I had a customize Greek-style seasoning blend ready to be use on chicken.

In addition to about 2 tbsp. of the Tsardust blend, I added the zest of a lemon and about 1 tsp. of oregano. An extra grind of pepper finished off my thrown-together dry rub and I put it to work.

Slapdash Greek-Style Chicken Flatbreads

2 tbsp. Penzeys Tsardust Memories Seasoning Blend (or just use the spices listed above to make your own)
Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tbsp.)
1 tsp. dried oregano
Salt & pepper to taste
Oil (for the pan)
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (would work on chicken thighs too)
Flatbreads or pocketless pita breads
Sliced tomatoes (for serving)
Shredded lettuce (for serving)
Thinly sliced red onion (for serving)
Tzatziki Sauce (get my favorite recipe courtesy of Food Network)

You can make the tzatziki sauce ahead of time and let it chill in the fridge at least 2 hours or overnight.

Combine the spices and rub well into both sides of each chicken breast. Drizzle about 1-2 tbsp. of oil (I used olive oil) in a large cast-iron pan. Heat until shimmering, then add in the chicken breasts. Cook 4-5 minutes until seared on both sides and done in the middle.

Remove from the pan and let them rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving on top of warmed flatbread and topping with the tomatoes, lettuce, onion and tzatziki sauce. Perfect with a side of fries!

Printable Recipe

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Family Game Night #2 {AKA An Excuse To Serve Appetizers}

My husband and I started a monthly "family" game night with our friends this summer (check out the first one here) and it has quickly become something we look forward to every month. In September, we're actually doing 2, we're that addicted!

My husband is a big fan of tabletop gaming and you can always check out his blog if you're into that, and I love that its become something fun we can do together. These game nights with our friends also give me an excuse to test out and cook up delicious little bites and appetizers that I wouldn't usually get to do, so I love it!

Let's get to the food...

Its the end of the summer around here on the Eastern Shore, which means the last "hurrahs" of the fantastic summer tomatoes. I absolutely had to use them in at least one appetizer, so I decided on this super-simple tomato tart with a puff pastry base.

I did have a freak-out moment when I went to put the tart together 45 minutes before people were coming and realized I had forgotten to thaw the puff pastry! Thanks to Pinterest, I was able to figure out a way to quick thaw it and the dish was saved. I just wrapped the fully-frozen sheet in a layer of plastic wrap and microwaved it for 30 seconds. It unfolded and thawed completely on the counter in about 10 minutes, whew!

This tart is a perfect way to showcase those end-of-the-season tomatoes and is insanely easy, it honestly don't get much easier. I learned a trick to decrease a little of the moisture in tomatoes earlier this summer and it works really well with this dish: slice your tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick and spread them out on a piece of parchment paper or a large cutting board. Sprinkle with kosher salt and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, then blot off the excess water using paper towels and you're ready to go.

Puff Pastry Tomato Tart

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry (THAWED!)
8 oz room temperature cream cheese
1/3 cup light sour cream
Zest from one lemon
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Salt & pepper
2 tbsp. chopped chives
12 oz assorted tomatoes (just use whatever you have on hand)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Unfold the pastry onto a floured counter or cutting board and gently roll out/press out until about a 9x11 inch rectangle. Transfer it onto a pizza stone or cookie sheet and score all the way around about a 1/2" from the edges with a sharp paring knife, then poke everywhere with a fork. This will keep the pastry from over-puffing while it bakes.

Pop it in the oven for about 20 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and let it cool completely. 

Whip together the cream cheese, sour cream, lemon zest, juice and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Fold in the chives and spread evenly over the crust. Arrange the tomatoes on top and serve at room temperature.

Adapted from a recipe from Food Network Magazine

Printable Puff Pastry Tomato Tart Recipe

We live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, so of course I had to do something with crab. We have access to amazing fresh crab here, but if you don't, don't worry about it, there are great options you can get at your local seafood counter. Just make sure to get lump crab, it's by far the best!

Mini Crab Cakes w/ Red Pepper Sauce

1 lb. lump crabmeat
4 scallions (sliced thin)
2/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning blend
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 egg
6 tbsp. mayonnaise (divided)
1/4 cup roasted red bell pepper (rough chopped)
3 tsp. Frank's hot sauce
Zest from 1 lemon
2 tbsp. canola oil

Combine crab, scallions, Panko, Old Bay, salt and pepper in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the mustard, egg and 2 tbsp. of the mayonnaise. Pour the mustard mixture over the crab mixture and fold until combined.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or up to 2 hours.

You can make the sauce ahead of time in the food processor, just combine the bell pepper, hot sauce, lemon zest and remaining 4 tbsp. of mayonnaise and blend until smooth. Add in a little lemon juice or more hot sauce to taste.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Form the crab mixture into about 24 small cakes, think about maybe an inch and a half in diameter. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Work in batches and fry up the cakes until browned evenly, about 2-3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and serve warm with the sauce.

Adapted from a Whole Foods recipe

Printable Mini Crab Cakes with Spicy Red Pepper Sauce Recipe

About halfway through the prep for this game night, I realized how much cheese I was using! Oh well, no one in our group hates cheese so we were all on board. This recipe for mini cheese balls is amazing and so easy. You can easily customize the recipe with whatever kind of cheese you like if bleu cheese isn't your thing. I served the little balls with pretzel rods, but they're perfect all on their own or with crackers too!

Mini Cheese Ball Bites

8 oz room temperature cream cheese
3 oz bleu cheese crumbles
3/4 cup dried cranberries (finely chopped)
1 1/2 cups pecans
Pretzel sticks or crackers for serving

Beat together the cream cheese, bleu cheese crumbles and dried cranberries in the bowl of a stand mixer until combined well. Dampen hands to prevent sticking and form mixture into approx. 24 little balls (about 1 tbsp. per ball). Cover and refrigerate until form, at least 2 hours.

Toast the pecans in the oven at 350 degrees on an ungreased sheet pan for about 8-10 minutes, until just fragrant. Allow them to cool, then finely chop them.

Roll the chilled cheese balls in the pecans, pressing gently to make sure they adhere well to the cheese, then return them to the fridge until ready to serve.

Barely adapted from Five Heart Home

Printable Mini Cheese Ball Bite Recipe

What kind of party would it be without dessert? A pretty crappy one, in my opinion. These perfect little decadent cheesecake brownie bites are amazing and since they're each the size of a mini-muffin, you don't feel as bad going back for seconds!

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Swirl Brownie Bites

Ingredients for the Brownie
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs (cold)
1/2 cup AP flour
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Ingredients for the Cheesecake Swirl
8 oz softened room-temperature cream cheese
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a mini-muffin pan with nonstick spray and set aside. I always use a silicone muffin pan and they're awesome for recipes like this!

Melt the butter and combine with the sugar, cocoa powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add in the vanilla and mix until well combined before adding the eggs in one at a time. When the batter looks thick and shiny, add the flour and mix well. Fold in the chocolate chips and set aside.

Whisk together all the ingredients for the cheesecake swirl in a separate bowl and now you're ready to assemble.

Spoon a tbsp. of brownie batter into each mini-muffin cup and then dollop about a 1/2 tbsp. of the cheesecake mixture on top. Swirl with the tip of a knife and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Allow them to cool completely before removing from the pan (I popped mine in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to speed it up since I only have one mini muffin pan!) and serve either cold or at room temperature.

Barely Adapted from

Printable Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Swirl Brownie Bites

What are some of your favorite appetizers and small bites? I think this month's first game night will have a Mediterranean/Greek flair, can't wait!

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Fall = Baking

Sometimes I find a recipe that even this constant recipe tweaker can't improve is just that good! Yesterday I tried 2 recipes that fit the bill (unheard of!) and I have to share them with you. I don't know about you, but here on the Eastern Shore, the summer has been pretty mild. Yesterday it was a lovely 62 degrees when I woke up, so I threw open the windows and started baking.

What? That's not your first reaction to cooler weather?

I had been wanting to try these "Toddler Muffins" for my daughter and yesterday was the perfect time to do it.  The muffins did not disappoint and she LOVES them. They're full of great stuff for her too, whole wheat flour, applesauce, yogurt, pumpkin, carrots, the list goes on and on. I have a 2-year-old who, for some reason, gets a little freaked over big food, so I make a lot of recipes bite-sized for her to save me from constantly cutting things up.

Silicone muffin pans have been my saving grace of late, and the mini ones were perfect for the toddler muffins.  She scarfed 3 down as a snack and probably would have gone for more if I hadn't made her slow down! You can really add anything to these muffins, shredded zucchini would be fantastic or throw in some raisins, craisins or nuts if your kids dig it.

Check out the recipe, courtesy of the Real Life Dinner blog: The Best Toddler Muffins

The second recipe I baked up is not even slightly healthy, but incredibly deilicious. Its an Amish-style cinnamon quick bread that is shockingly addicting. Don't question it, just bake up a couple loaves of this stuff immediately! It's perfect with tea or coffee and works as a dessert to...basically eat it all day long!

Check out the recipe, courtesy of the Red Fly Creations blog: Amazing Amish Cinnamon Bread

All the kids in our county are starting school today so that means a morning at the playground for me and my kiddo who isn't in school yet, I'm psyched for fall for so many reasons and can't wait for this cooler weather to set in and stay!

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