Blueberry French Toast Casserole

Leftover bread, dinner rolls, etc. can all be put to good use in making stuffing, croutons and one of my favorites, french toast casserole.  Easy to make ahead and bake in the morning, this recipe was amped up this weekend with the addition of fresh blueberries.  Served warm with a drizzle of maple syrup and crisp salty bacon, you’ll definitely want to try this around the upcoming holidays.

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BLUEBERRY FRENCH TOAST CASSEROLE

Ingredients

  • 6 Dinner Rolls or 1/2 Load Bread
  • 5 Eggs
  • 1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 Cup Milk
  • 1 Tbs. Sugar
  • 1 Tsp. Vanilla
  • 1/2 Tsp. Cinnamon
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1 Cup Fresh Blueberries
  • 1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 3 Tbs. Butter

Instructions

  • Tear bread into roughly 2-inch pieces and set aside.
  • In a medium bowl combine eggs, cream, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt.  Whisk together until until all ingredients are incorporated.
  • Place bread into egg mixture and toss lightly to coat evenly.  Do not over-mix or your bread will turn to mush.
  • Fold in blueberries until evenly distributed.
  • Pour mixture into a 2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • Take casserole out 30 minutes prior to baking.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Bake covered for 40 minutes.
  • Remove lid or foil and sprinkle dish with brown sugar.  Cut butter into small pieces and dot along top of brown sugar.
  • Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and serve immediately with warm maple syrup.

It doesn’t get much easier than a make-ahead breakfast like this one.  This recipe serves four, but can easily be doubled and baked in a 13×9 dish.  Who wouldn’t want to wake up to this on Christmas morning?  Or any morning for that matter?  Dig in!

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Sweet & Salty Nectarine Salad

Taking advantage of fresh produce is what usually drives our cooking menu week to week.  With nectarines at their peak not long ago I made a delicious salad with the perfect combination to balance those sweet, soft and buttery nectarines.  It doesn’t get easier than four ingredients that make you look like a rockstar chef.

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SWEET & SALTY NECTARINE SALAD

Ingredients

  • 4 Ripe Nectarines
  • 8 Slices Prosciutto
  • 8 Ounces Blue Cheese
  • Balsamic Vinegar

Instructions

  • Wash, pit and slice nectarines.  Arrange one nectarine’s-worth of slices per plate in a pinwheel.
  • Tear two slices of prosciutto into 3 pieces each and arrange in small “piles” around each plate.
  • Crumble 2 ounces of blue cheese over each plate.
  • Drizzle with a quality balsamic vinegar and serve immediately.

I said it was easy!  Any ripe stone fruit will work well in this recipe – try it with peaches or plums.  I used a blue cheese this time that was little harder than I would recommend, creamier would be better.  Want to vary the texture, try a few toasted walnuts or pistachios as a topper.  Dig in!

Tuna Noodle Casserole With Mushrooms

Growing up, I absolutely hated tuna noodle casserole – it was guaranteed PB&J night!  Of course, that was back in the day of the terrible boxed stuff full of dried veggies and salty sauce.  Now that my tastes have changed and I have come to embrace all things tuna and noodles!  This recipe is a riff on the classic with the addition of mushrooms and it’s super-creamy.  What a perfect quick dinner that won’t gross out your kids!

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TUNA NOODLE CASSEROLE WITH MUSHROOMS

Ingredients

  • 12 Ounces Uncooked Egg Noodles
  • 12 Ounces Canned Tuna, Drained
  • 2 Cups Sliced Mushrooms
  • 1 Tbs. Butter
  • 1 Cup Frozen Green Peas, Thawed
  • 16 Ounces Low-Fat Sour Cream
  • 1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
  • 2 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 2 Tsp. Parsley
  • 2 Tsp. Garlic Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper
  • 3/4 Cup Shredded Swiss Cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Saute mushrooms in butter until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes.  Set aside.
  • Cook noodles according to package directions.  Drain and place in a large mixing bowl.
  • Fold tuna, peas and cooked mushrooms into noodles.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together sour cream, mayo, mustard, parsley, garlic salt and pepper.
  • Fold sour cream mixture into noodle mixture.
  • Spray a 4-quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Pour mixture into baking dish and top with swiss cheese.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, uncovered, until top is golden and casserole is bubbly.
  • Serve immediately.

I’m overdue in posting this recipe for my friend Missy, but I hope she and you all love it.  Want to save some fat and calories?  Use fat-free sour cream and mayo and substitute breadcrumbs for the swiss cheese.  The consistency is still great with low-fat or fat-free dairy and the texture of the breadcrumbs makes up for the cheese.  Either way, I think you’ll find it better than that old box.  Dig in!

Open-Faced Salmon BLT’s

It’s been a long time since I’ver posted, but trust that I’ve been both cooking and eating with my regular enthusiasm!  We recently went camping and were looking for something fresh and easy for dinner – who needs another hot dog on a stick, right?!  These open-faced salmon BLT’s were simple, delicious and easy to make with minimal mess.  Try them at home for a busy weeknight or as a wonderful weekend brunch.

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OPEN-FACED SALMON BLT’S

Ingredients

  • 1 Lbs. Fresh Salmon Filet
  • 4 Sliced Ciabatta Bread
  • 8 Slices Crisp Cooked Bacon
  • 2 Avocados
  • Juice of 1/2 Lime
  • Fresh Bibb Lettuce
  • 2 Ripe Tomatoes, Sliced
  • 1/4 Cup Mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbs. Dijon Mustard
  • 2 Tbs. Water
  • 1 Tbs. Fresh Chives, Chopped
  • Pinch Red Pepper Flakes
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste

Instructions

  • In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, dijon mustard, water, chives and a dash each of salt and pepper.  Stir until smooth and place in refrigerator.
  • Remove skin and pit from avocado.  Dice and place both avocados in a small bowl.  Add lime juice, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste.  Smash together with fork until mixture is slightly lumpy.  Cover and place in refrigerator.
  • Salt and pepper the salmon filet.  Grill or pan sear until cooked through – about 5-7 minutes per side depending on thickness.
  • Remove salmon from grill and let rest.  Place ciabatta on grill and toast both sides for 30-45 seconds until browned.  You can also use a toaster here.
  • To assemble sandwiches:  smear each piece of toasted bread with 1/4 of the avocado mixture.  Add two slices of bacon per piece, then layer with tomato, Bibb lettuce and 1/4 of cooked salmon.
  • Drizzle each sandwich with dijon/mayo mixture and serve immediately.

I hope you love this easy dish as much as we did!  It could easily be doubled or tripled for a larger group, but still doesn’t require a ton of work.  Whether outdoors on the grill or made in your kitchen, you’ll add this to your summer meal rotation for sure.  Dig in!

My Favorite 7-Layer Salad

After some extraordinarily busy months, I’ve found time to get back to cooking and entertaining.  And as summer weather has landed in Cincinnati, I’m looking forward to plenty of picnics, pool parties and family gatherings!  One of my go-to dishes for any of these occasions is my Favorite 7-Layer Salad.  There are lots of variations I’ve eaten in the past, but this particular combination of ingredients and dressing put this at the top of my list.  Crisp, green and fresh, it makes the perfect side for any of your upcoming summer gatherings.

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MY FAVORITE 7-LAYER SALAD

Ingredients

  • 1 Head Iceberg Lettuce
  • 1 Cup Diced Celery
  • 1 Bunch Green Onions, Chopped
  • 8 Ounces Frozen Peas
  • 1 1/4 Cups Light Mayonnaise
  • 3 Tbs. Sugar
  • 1 Cup Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 1/2 Cups Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 6-8 Strips Cooked Bacon, Crumbled

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Instructions

  • Chop or tear entire head of lettuce into bite-size pieces.  Spread into an even layer in a 13×9 pan.
  • Sprinkle diced celery over lettuce.  Then spread green onions on top of celery.
  • Pour frozen peas over salad in a single layer.  Press down on first four layers to compact salad.  HINT:  I leave the peas frozen to keep the salad colder longer and it makes it easier to spread the dressing in the next step!
  • In a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, sugar and parmesan.  Spread evenly over frozen peas.
  • Sprinkle shredded cheese over salad and finally top with bacon.

You can serve this immediate if it will be out where the peas will thaw quickly.  You can also chill in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours prior to serving.  Also, you can use regular mayo, more cheese and/or bacon to make it a little more over-the-top.  Either way, I know you’ll love using this recipe throughout the summer.  Looking for variations?  Try using white onion instead of green for a little extra bite.  Also consider swapping or adding a layer of radishes or green pepper for additional texture and flavor.  Dig in!

Beef Tongue Tacos (Tacos de Lingua)

When we had an opportunity to split a whole steer with some neighbors, we jumped at the chance.  My first question was, “does anyone want the weird parts?”  Luckily for me, no one did and I ended up with a beef tongue.  What do you do with a beef tongue?  Well, you make the best tacos you’ve ever had!  The richest beef lays a perfect foundation for all your favorite south-of-the-border toppings in this easy dish.

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BEEF TONGUE TACOS

Ingredients

  • 2-3 Lbs. Beef Tongue
  • 4 Shallots, Diced
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, Peeled & Smashed
  • 1 Tbs. Salt
  • 1 Tbs. Black Peppercorns
  • 3 Whole Bay Leaves
  • 2 Tbs. Canola Oil
  • Small Corn Tortillas
  • 1 Avocado, Diced
  • Pickled Red Onions
  • Queso Fresco, Grated

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Instructions

  • Rinse beef tongue thoroughly and place in a medium stock pot.
  • Place shallots, garlic cloves, salt, peppercorns and bay leaves in with the tongue.
  • Cover completely with water and place on stove on medium heat covered until boiling.
  • Turn down heat and simmer with lid cracked for 3 hours.  You may need to add some liquid along the way to ensure the tongue remains covered.  HINT:  the skin on the tongue will turn bright white – that’s OK!
  • At 3 hours, take the pot off heat.  Remove tongue from liquid and place on a cutting board until you are able to handle.
  • Using a sharp knife to start it, peel the outer skin from the tongue completely.  Remove any excess fat or connective tissue.
  • Dice meat into 1-inch cubes.
  • In a cast iron skillet, sauté meat in canola oil until edges are crispy, about 8-10 minutes.
  • Remove meat and drain on paper towels.
  • Serve immediately, assembling tacos with meat and toppings listed in ingredients.

If you can get past the idea of the tongue, you’ll experience the richest tender beef you’ve ever had.  With it’s deep flavor, it stands up to spicy salsa, the bite of pickled red onions, creamy avocado and salty queso fresco.  (SIDE NOTE:  Don’t buy pickled onions!  Dissolve 3 Tbs. sugar and 1 1/2 Tbs. salt in 1 cup white vinegar over low heat.  Add 1 Tsp. black peppercorns and pour the hot liquid over a thinly sliced large red onion.  Allow to cool and store covered in the refrigerator.)  The combinations are endless, but the star of the show is the beef that can taste you back!  My friend Marcos would be so proud of me.  Dig in!

Sticky Chinese Ribs

Have you ever had sticky ribs from your favorite Chinese takeout or local restaurant?  While I’m a purist most times about BBQ, I have to admit my latest creation for oven ribs is near the top of my all-time favorites.  From the citrusy marinade to the rich tangy sauce, there’s enough going on to forget that these never touched a grill or smoker!

 

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STICKY CHINESE RIBS

Ingredients

  • 3-4 Lbs. Rack of Baby Back Ribs

Marinade

  • 6-8 Slices Fresh Ginger
  • 2-3 Cloves Chopped Garlic
  • 1/2 Cup Orange Juice
  • 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
  • 2 Tbs. Canola Oil
  • 1 Tsp. Toasted Sesame Oil

 

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Sticky Sauce

  • 3 Tbs. Light Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tbs. Hoisin Sauce
  • 1 Tbs. Ketchup
  • 1 Tbs. Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tbs. Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 2 Tsp. Sriracha
  • 1 Tsp. Chinese Five Spice Powder

Instructions

  • Remove silver skin from the back side of ribs and cut rack in half.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together all marinade ingredients.
  • Place ribs in a gallon zipper bag and pour marinade over them.  Remove as much air as possible and seal.
  • Marinate for 2-6 hours, turning occasionally to ensure marinade penetrates all of the meat.

To Cook

  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  • Remove ribs from marinate and shake off excess liquid.  Place in a glass 13×9 baking dish.
  • Add a half cup water, cover tightly with foil and bake at 300 degrees for 3 hours.
  • With 20 minutes left of cooking time, place all of the sticky sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat.  Stir frequently and cook for 15 minutes until sauce thickens slightly.
  • Remove ribs from oven.  Turn your oven’s broiler to low.
  • Transfer ribs to a foil-lined baking sheet.  Spoon 1/2 half of sticky sauce over ribs and place under broiler for 3-4 minutes.
  • Spoon the remaining sauce over the ribs and place back under the broiler for an additional 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove ribs from oven, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately.

The sticky sauce and warm spices cut through the fat of the ribs while enhancing the flavor of the pork.  You’ll be amazed how much these remind you of versions you’ve had from restaurants – only it’s better!  I know we’ll use this sticky Chinese-inspired sauce on wings in the near future too – I think a little sliced scallion would be the perfect finish.  Give them a try and I guarantee you’ll want to make them for your friends and family during these NFL playoff weekends.  Dig in!

Baked Cinnamon Oatmeal

The cold winter weather has me craving a hot breakfast lately.  I love oatmeal on a cold morning and this recipe is a great way to start a blustery day.  We used to have baked oatmeal at our friend Connie’s house every Memorial Day.  There’s something about hearty oatmeal and warm milk that’s comforting.  You’re going to love this one for a breakfast crowd or to use throughout your busy week.

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BAKED CINNAMON OATMEAL

Ingredients

  • 4 Cups Oatmeal (quick-cooking)
  • 1 Cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tsp. Cinnamon
  • 2 Tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp. Salt
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 Cups Milk
  • 1 Stick Butter, Melted

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a large bowl add oatmeal, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.  Stir to combine.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and milk.  Skim milk works fine here.
  • Add liquid to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • Stir in melted butter.
  • Pour mixture into a 13×9 pan coated with non-stick spray.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Cut into squares and serve immediately in bowls with warm milk.

Our tradition is to eat this with warm scalloped apples and warm whole milk.  You can definitely vary the toppings based on your preference.  You can also add dried fruit and/or nuts to the oatmeal before baking for added flavor and texture.  I’d recommend that as an option if you plan on taking these tasty squares as a grab-and-go breakfast with your cup of coffee.  You and your family will surely love this recipe as much as we do.  Dig in!

Cherry Date Dainties

I love making old family recipes, especially around the holidays.  This cookie/candy treat comes from my wife’s side of the family and has quickly become one of my favorites this time of year.  Dainties have everything you want in a Christmas treat – sweet, chewy crunchy and festive-looking!  The combination of cherries, dates and nuts isn’t unique, but the crunch given by the addition of crispy rice cereal is.  And who can resist the snowy indulgence of coconut??

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CHERRY DATE DAINTIES

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Cups Chopped Dates
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 Cups Crispy Rice Cereal
  • 3/4 Cup Maraschino Cherries, Chopped
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts
  • 1 Tsp. Vanilla
  • Dash Salt
  • 1 Cup Sweetened Shredded Coconut

Instructions

  • In a large saucepan, combine dates, sugar and eggs.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
  • Cook/boil for 10 minutes until dates break down and mixture becomes almost smooth.  Continue to stir constantly or the mixture will stick and burn.
  • Remove from heat and stir in salt and vanilla.
  • Add cereal, cherries and walnuts.  Stir until mixture is evenly coated.
  • Turn mixture out onto a plate or pan and allow to cool until you can handle.
  • Roll mixture into 1-inch balls and then roll into coconut to lightly coat.
  • Cookies will keep up to 2 weeks.

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This is an easy recipe, but a little tough to execute.  The mixture is VERY sticky and makes it hard to handle.  I like to take a small spoonful of the dough and place it on the coconut and then use the coconut as a barrier to press and roll the cookies.  It doesn’t have to be exactly round as the cherries and flaked coating make them look wintry and festive.  Give them a try and keep this one in your go-to cookie recipes for the holidays.  Dig in!

Oven-Fried Chicken

Who doesn’t love the homey goodness of crispy fried chicken??  Besides the grease and mess, it’s healthier to try my oven-fried version as you look to add recipes to your winter lineup.  The combination of herbs and spices along with a little parmesan cheese give this recipe great flavor and texture while cutting down on the oil from a traditional fried chicken recipe.  Give this a try on your next chicken night and you’ll be fixing this family favorite regularly.

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OVEN-FRIED CHICKEN

Ingredients

  • 4 Lbs. Chicken Pieces or Boneless, Skinless Breasts
  • 1/2 Cup Milk (skim, 2% or buttermilk)
  • 1/2 Cup Plain Breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 Cup Self-Rising Cornmeal
  • 1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 Tsp. Dried Parsley
  • 1/2 Tsp. Onion Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1/4 Tsp. Ground Thyme
  • 1/4 Tsp. Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. Butter, Melted

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • In a shallow dish, combine breadcrumbs, cornmeal, parmesan and spices.  Mix with a fork to distribute evenly.
  • Pour milk into another shallow dish.
  • Dip chicken pieces into milk and then dredge in coating mixture.  Press gently to coat each chicken piece well.
  • Place chicken on a foil-lined baking sheet with enough space so pieces are not touching.
  • Continue process until all chicken is dipped and coated.
  • Place baking sheet in oven and bake for 10 minutes.
  • Remove baking sheet and drizzle chicken with melted butter.  Return to oven and bake for 40 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear.
  • Serve immediately.

You may need to adjust cooking time depending on the size of your chicken pieces and whether they’re boneless or not.  You may want to adjust the seasoning depending on how spicy you want it – a little more black pepper and two teaspoons of paprika would go a long way!  Have some holiday parties coming up?  Try making this recipe with wings or chicken legs for a great finger food.  Let me know what variations you come up with – I’m sure they’ll be great.  Dig in!