Realistic Cooking Ideas

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Green Beans with Walnuts Cranberries and Blue Cheese Closeup

The holidays! Many people enjoy the traditional dishes but it is also nice to change them up a bit. Fresh green beans are just wonderful – especially if they are al dente! Typically I like mine steamed with no dressing. But for the holidays why not add some walnuts, cranberries, blue cheese and you have a gourmet side dish! The walnuts and blue cheese could also be swapped out for other ingredients such as goat cheese. And it is another opportunity to use those dried cranberries! My festive cranberry port dip is another example on how you can use seasonal ingredients! Plus this dish can be made ahead as you will shock the steamed green beans in cold water. The dressing can be made the day before. So it is quick to assemble. It is always important to have a few quick and easy side dishes to make. Do you have any favorite quick holiday dishes?

Green Beans with Walnuts Cranberries and Blue Cheese

24-ounces green beans, trimmed
3 tbsp roasted walnut oil
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 heaping tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 small shallot, thinly sliced into half-moons
2 ounces crumbly blue cheese

Steam the green beans to desired tenderness. Then blanch the green beans in cold water for a few minutes to stop them from cooking, and then drain and dry well. Cut in half for bite-size green beans if desired. In a small bowl, whisk together the walnut oil, vinegar and Dijon mustard. Stir in the salt and pepper. Add the cool green beans to a large bowl and toss in the walnuts, cranberries and shallots and drizzle in the vinaigrette. Place on a platter or serving dish and sprinkle with the blue cheese.

Mini Bite Size Goat Cheese Roasted Red Pepper and Prosciutto Tarts - plated for serving

Whether you are looking for an appetizer for Thanksgiving, Christmas or a dinner gathering these are a wonderful selection! I just adore goat cheese and when I saw an appetizer recipe for them I just had to try it! These are excellent straight out of the oven. Plus they can be carefully reheated the next day in the microwave for about 15 seconds on a paper-lined microwave safe plate. Be sure to find a pretty platter for them!

There are several steps to making them. I purchase my tart shells to save time and typically purchase red peppers already roasted. You can roast your own but that does add more time to the preparation. The onions are caramelized so allocate about 20-minutes to bring out the sweetness in them. There are not a lot of ingredients so each one is important.

Mini Bite Size Goat Cheese Roasted Red Pepper and Prosciutto Tarts - plated for serving 2

You could make a full tart shell with this recipe but instead I purchased bite-size sweet tart shells to make them easier to eat as an appetizer. When you get to the topping ingredients you may need to adjust depending upon if you are making a full tart or just mini ones. The recipe is for full tart appetizer and you will have way too much topping for the mini tarts. Trust me I know!

Below are a few pictures from when I did roast the red peppers in the oven. I covered them with olive oil and roasted until “burnt” and the skin pulls off easily.
Mini Bite Size Goat Cheese Roasted Red Pepper and Prosciutto Tarts - preparing the red peppers to go into the oven
Mini Bite Size Goat Cheese Roasted Red Pepper and Prosciutto Tarts - roasted red peppers out of the oven
Mini Bite Size Goat Cheese Roasted Red Pepper and Prosciutto Tarts - roasted red peppers out of the oven before covering to steam
Inspired from Fine Cooking Appetizers: 200 Recipes for Small Bites with Big Flavor. For tips on roasting peppers.

Mini Bite Size Goat Cheese Roasted Red Pepper and Prosciutto Tarts - before going into the oven

Mini Bite Size Goat Cheese Roasted Red Pepper and Prosciutto Tarts - close up

Tart Shell:
Mini Bite-Size Sweet Tart Shells (24)
I purchase Clearbrook Farms

Roasted Red Peppers Ingredients:
2 medium red peppers
Olive Oil

Onion Filling Ingredients:
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 medium sweet onion, roughly chopped
½ tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Onion Filling Ingredients – Part 2:
2 thin slices prosciutto, roughly chopped
6 large fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 tbsp. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heavy Cream Topping Ingredients:
Note the below measurements are for a full tart – scale accordingly to how much you are making. For the mini tarts you need only a fraction of the below recipe.
1 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
1 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh thyme
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Topping Ingredients:
About 1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese

Roasted Red Peppers Directions:
Set your broiler to “high” and position the rack 6-8 inches from the flame. Preheat the broiler. Line a cookie sheet pan with foil to protect the peppers from sticking and for easier clean up. Cut the peppers in half, core, de-seed and place cut-side down on the pan. Brush the tops of the peppers with olive oil. Broil the peppers for approximately 5 minutes or until skins are blackened.

Carefully place the roasted peppers in a heatproof bowl, cover and steam for a few minutes. I like to use a heatproof spatula or similar serving utensil to move the hot red peppers to the heatproof bowl. Once cooled carefully pull the skin away from the pepper. Cut into small pieces.

Onion Filling Directions:
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion filling ingredients and cook until the onions are soft and caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside and cool to room temperature.

Onion Filling Directions – Part 2:
Once the onions are at room temperature add them to a medium bowl and combine with the prosciutto, basil, parmigiano, and thyme.

Heavy Cream Topping Directions:
In a small bowl, whisk the heavy cream, eggs, salt and pepper.

Assembling the Mini Tart Shells Directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Place the mini tart shells on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray. Distribute the onion filling mixture in the mini tart shells and top with goat cheese and the heavy cream mixture. Top with the roasted red peppers. Bake the tart until the custard is set, 20 to 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Mini Bite Size Goat Cheese Roasted Red Pepper and Prosciutto Tarts - plated for serving 3

Baked Asparagus with Balsamic Soy Sauce

Is everyone dreaming of recipes for their holidays menus – whether they are old favorite recipes that have sentimental memories or looking for new recipes to blend in with the favorites! This baked asparagus is a simple recipe to assemble and with the blend of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar it is a yummy way to add a vegetable to your dinner menu! And we all need a few simple recipes to work into our dinner menu. I hope you enjoy this easy to make recipe!

Through a closed Facebook group I have a “No Gain Holiday” challenge for those interested in maintaining their weight through the holidays. We are sharing healthy recipes and daily encouragement! Presently I am on my fourth round of the 21-day challenge and I wanted to share a few pictures of the food that I have been enjoying lately! One of my favorites is a chopped Baby Spinach Salad that I top with a flavored BV to eliminate adding olive oil. Just delicious!
Baby Spinach Chopped Salad

A new Shakeology that I tried: Creamsicle – yummy!

Asparagus, washed and ends snapped off
Grapeseed Oil
Salt and Pepper, freshly crushed
1 tbsp. Butter
1 tbsp. Soy Sauce, low-sodium
1 1/2 tsp. Balsamic Vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Shake the asparagus with a little Grapeseed oil and then season with freshly crushed salt and pepper. Bake, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, or until tender.

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in soy sauce and balsamic vinegar and continue to simmer. Drizzle over the baked asparagus just before serving.

Baked Mashed White and Sweet Potato Casserole

Are you putting together your Thanksgiving dinner menu? I tend to make changes each year to keep the menu fresh and unexpected! Are you looking for a recipe for mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes? This is a great way to present them by actually combining them together. I saw this approach in a few magazines and I liked how Food TV presented it the best. This would also be wonderful for Christmas dinner! It really is a nice presentation.

I used my own recipe for the potatoes and the measurements are estimates since I tend to add more of the ingredients when I do my taste tests. But if you already have a favorite recipe for mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes then hopefully this provides another option for presentation! You can tap into your creativity!

Baked Mashed White and Sweet Potato Casserole with Candles

White Mashed Potatoes Ingredients
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 tbsp. Unsalted Butter, diced
1/2 cup Light Cream, warmed
½ cup Sour Cream
Salt and White Pepper
Additional milk depending upon desired texture

White Mashed Potatoes Preparation
Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water and add salt. Bring to a boil then cook on medium heat until the potatoes are easily pierced with a knife, 35 to 40 minutes. Drain and then return to the stovetop to cook for another minute or two to cook out any excess moisture. Transfer potatoes to a mixer or your chosen method to mash them. Add butter, sour cream, and light cream. Season the mashed potatoes with salt and white pepper to taste. Add additional milk if you feel the mixture is too dense.

Sweet Mashed Potatoes Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds Sweet Potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup Light Cream
1 to 2 tbsp. Brown Sugar
2 tbsp. Butter
½ to 1 tsp. Nutmeg
1 to 2 tsp. Cinnamon
⅛ tsp. Cloves
Roasted Pecans for topping

Sweet Mashed Potatoes Preparation
Place the sweet potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water and add salt. Bring to a boil then cook on medium heat until the potatoes are easily pierced with a knife, 35 to 40 minutes. Drain and let cool slightly. Transfer sweet potatoes to a mixer or your chosen method to mash them. Then add butter, brown sugar, and spices. Mash well adding any additional seasonings.

Assembling the Final Dish
Add the white mashed potatoes to a large baking dish. Add sweet potatoes to the middle of the white mashed potatoes and swirl using a large spoon. You can prepare ahead of time and reheat, covered, at 350 degrees F, 15 to 20 minutes. Add pecans to the top of the sweet potatoes before serving.

Cast Iron Skillet Chicken with a Fruit Rice Pilaf Topped off with a Splash of Orange Liqueur Plated 2

Sometimes you make a new recipe that ends up being beyond any initial expectations! And this is one of those recipes! Be sure to not reduce any of the spices because this is a wonderful rice dish with the spices being the star of the dish! Make a large batch because it warms over nicely and what a nice treat to have the next day. It can be made in a cast iron skillet or in a heavy skillet. Be sure to use cinnamon sticks as it introduces a fabulous aroma and flavor. Your house will smell heavenly!

Cast Iron Skillet Chicken with a Fruit Rice Pilaf Topped off with a Splash of Orange Liqueur in the pan

This dish can be made in one pan or two. I use two because while the chicken is cooking I have the stir fry pan going with the remaining ingredients. The cooking time is also going to depend upon if you are using white or brown rice. Remember to rinse the brown rice until the water runs clear and typically it takes longer to cook than white rice. For a meatless version, try substituting tofu for the chicken. The spices are a starting point – once you do your taste test you might want to add more!

This dish can be made with cubed chicken for a stir fry approach. The first time I did not cube the chicken and I spent more time on the dish presentation. I used slivered almonds instead of sliced almonds. For this presentation a chunkier almond works better than the sliced. Doesn’t this look delicious!

Cast Iron Skillet Chicken with a Fruit Rice Pilaf Topped off with a Splash of Orange Liqueur plated

A stir fry approach is also fun to serve. In this presentation I use sliced almonds and did not spend much time on the presentation because it is a casual dish. This could work well on a buffet where your guests serve themselves because the chicken is diced as part of the dish.
Cast Iron Skillet Chicken with a Fruit Rice Pilaf Topped off with a Splash of Orange Liqueur Plated 1

There is not a sauce with this dish and I believe there is enough flavors that it is not needed. However if you really would like a sauce I would consider increasing the liquid ingredients and spices since the more liquids you add will water down the spices. I am not sure if extra liquids will have any negative impact on the rice – you do not want mushy rice. So you may consider creating a sauce in a separate pan.
Cast Iron Skillet Chicken with a Fruit Rice Pilaf Topped off with a Splash of Orange Liqueur Plated 3

This recipe was inspired by The new Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook. This is an awesome cookbook that you might want to consider if you like cooking with a cast iron skillet.

Cast Iron Skillet Chicken and Rice Pilaf top view

Chicken Ingredients
4 to 6 Chicken Breasts, boneless, skinless
Seasoned Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper

Marinade Ingredients
¼ cup Orange Juice
⅛ cup Lemon Juice
1 tbsp. Honey

Rice Ingredients
Seasoned Salt
Freshly Grounded Pepper
Olive Oil
1 Large Sweet Onion, diced
2 – 3 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 Cups Carrots, diced or sliced
1 cup Jasmine Rice or Brown Rice

Spice Ingredients
2 tsp. Ground Cumin
1 tsp. Ground Coriander
2 Cinnamon Sticks, 3-inch
2 Bay Leaves

Dried Fruit Ingredients
½ cup Golden Raisins, preferred
¼ to ½ cup Dried Apricots

Final Ingredients
2 ½ cups Chicken Broth, low sodium
3 to 4 tbsp. Orange Liqueur

Topping Ingredients (optional)
Almonds, slivered or sliced
Dried Apricots

Step 1: Marinade
Cut the chicken into bite size pieces if you want the dish more like a stir-fry. Place in a zip lock bag with the marinade and place in the refrigerator for a few hours – turning occasionally.

Step 2: Rice
In a large cast iron pan or stir fry pan, add olive oil, heat and then add onions. Cook for a few minutes and then add carrots and the garlic. Add spices, chicken broth and rice. Cover, bring to a boil then simmer for about 15-25 minutes. The time depends upon if you are using white or brown rice. Remember to rinse the brown rice and it typically takes longer to cook. I prefer to have the brown rice partially cooked before adding the chicken and dried fruit otherwise the fruit can become too soft and the chicken might get a bit dry.

Step 3: Chicken
While the rice is cooking, heat a heavy pan with olive oil then add the chicken and season. Discard the zip lock bag with the marinade. Cook the chicken part way as you will be adding it to the rice mixture to finish cooking. How long you cook the chicken depends upon if you cube it or not. If you want to make this meal in only one pan then cook your chicken partway first, then place on a plate and cover with foil. Then use this pan to start step 2 and then progress to step 4.

Step 4: Add Chicken to Rice Mixture
Add the chicken that is cooked partway through, the dried fruit and orange liqueur. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 30-minutes until chicken is cooked through and rice is tender. You might need to add more liquids if the rice mixture becomes too dry. Consider adding a little orange juice to the chicken broth so you do not lose too much flavor by just adding more chicken broth. Remove cinnamon sticks and bay leaves. Serve and garnish with the almonds and more dried apricots.

Apple Spice Cake closeup

Do you have a lot of apples this fall season? Are you looking for a recipe that uses apples and wonderful spices to bring out the flavors? This is a delicious recipe that is great for the holidays with the apples and spices! A perfect fall dessert! I adapted this recipe from Diabetic Living. It makes a small 8x8x2-inch pan, which is perfect for when you want to make a quick dessert that does not take much time. Plus a small pan helps with calorie control! The topping is a simple whipped cream with perhaps a sprinkle of cinnamon or other fun topping. It travels nicely since you can bring along some whip cream or other topping.

Apple Spice Cake served

I think it looks yummy right in the pan! You can dice or slice your apples as you like them. I cut mine in chunks and they are tender with a bit of a snap. Apple Spice Cake

I like to top the whipped cream with some pretty toppings to add some color! It also looks nice on the plate. You can take a simple dessert and make it look gourmet with your toppings and plating. Apple Spice Cake View from top
Dry Ingredients:
3/4-cup flour
1/2-cup white whole-wheat flour
1/4-cup flaxseed meal
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cloves

Wet Ingredients:
1 egg
6 – ounce carton plain low-fat Greek yogurt
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce + 3 tbsp.
1 1/2 tbsp. molasses
1 large baking apple, sliced or diced

Topping Ingredients:
Light whipped dessert topping
Cinnamon or other topping to shake over the dessert

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat an 8x8x2-inch baking pan with cooking spray; set aside.

Combine the dry and wet ingredients in separate bowls. Mix in the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and then fold in the apple slices/chunks. Spread batter evenly in the prepared baking pan.

Bake about 20 – 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. This dessert is excellent served warm. Top each serving with whipped topping and consider adding more cinnamon or other toppings.

Blueberry Streusel Bars with Lemon Cream Filling - stacked for serving

I love blueberries and especially their health benefits. This blueberry streusel bar was just so darn good! Of course I used fresh blueberries because I do not care for the messy frozen version – the blueberry juice is dangerous when thawed! The blueberries do need to be at room temperature so plan ahead since using cold blueberries may impact the even baking of the bars. Overall bake time is about 50-minutes. Cooling time before serving is about an hour. So planning ahead is important. For best flavor serve them warm!

We really enjoyed these blueberry streusel bars. If I were to make them again I would reduce the cake ingredients as the crust was a bit thick for me. Also I would reduce the reserved cake mixture used as the topping – maybe reduced by a half. I did think it took the focus away from the blueberry lemon-cream filling however not everyone agreed with me. As always it is your own preference. Do you want the emphasis on the cake with the filling as an accent or the focus on the filling?

Blueberry Streusel Bars with Lemon Cream Filling - closeup of single bar

If you would like more of the filling then reduce the cake ingredients and if you like a cake type streusel with less emphasis on the blueberries then make it as is! We did find that the excess topping will shake off the bars and can be a bit messy! If you can, heat it in the microwave before serving to bring out the flavors. A scoop of vanilla ice cream would go nicely with a warm blueberry streusel bar!

This recipe was inspired from Fine Cooking Appetizers: 200 Recipes for Small Bites with Big Flavor. This appetizer book has a lot of wonderful recipes!

Cake Ingredients:
3 cups flour
1-1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick oats)
1-1/3 cups packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg white

Lemon-Cream Filling Ingredients:
14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2-cup fresh lemon juice
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp. grated lemon zest

Blueberries Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups room-temperature blueberries, washed and drained on paper towels

Cake Directions:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9×13-inch metal baking pan with foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang on the ends. Spray the bottom and sides of the foil with a non-stick spray.

In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients (except for the egg and butter). Blend the room-temperature butter completely into the flour mixture (a pastry blender or two knives can help with this process). Transfer 2 cups of crumb mixture to another bowl and reserve for the topping. Blend the egg white into the remaining crumbs and then press the mixture into the bottom of the pan to form a crust. I like to use the bottom of a measuring cup to press down the crumbs to even it out. Bake the crust until it starts to form a dry top, 10 to 12 minutes.

Lemon-Cream Filling Directions:
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the condensed milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, and egg yolk. Let this mixture stand for 5 minutes; it will begin to thicken.

Assembling the Blueberry Bars Directions:
Take the cake out of the oven once the crust is formed. Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over the hot crust and then drop spoonful of the lemon mixture over the blueberries. Gently distribute with a spatula, but be careful to not crush the blueberries. Do not worry about it being perfect. Return the cake to the oven and bake until the lemon mixture just begins to form a shiny skin, 7 to 8 minutes.

Topping the Blueberry Bars Directions:
Take the cake out of the oven and sprinkle the reserved topping over the lemon-blueberry layer, pressing the streusel between your fingers into small lumps as you sprinkle. Return the cake and bake until the filling is bubbling at the edges and the topping is brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let the blueberry bars cool in the pan on a rack until just warm, about an hour. Carefully lift them out of the pan using the foil overhang and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Remove the foil and cut into 24 bars when cool. The bars may be stored at room temperature for a few hours but otherwise should be kept in the refrigerator.

Blueberry Streusel Bars with Lemon Cream Filling - baked crust out of the ovent

Blueberry Streusel Bars with Lemon Cream Filling - baked crust with blueberry topping

Blueberry Streusel Bars with Lemon Cream Filling - cut into bars for serving

Susan Call Hutchison

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