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!

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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!

Sweet & Savory Party Nuts

The holiday season is fast approaching and that means plenty of entertaining.  It’s always good to keep some homemade snacks on hand for company or to take along as a hostess gift when visiting family and friends.  This recipe is a simple way to dress up mixed nuts for a salty, sweet and savory snack you can make over and over again.  A surprising hint of rosemary provides a contrasting flavor and slightly piney aroma that’s reminiscent of the holidays.

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SWEET & SAVORY PARTY NUTS

Ingredients

  • 4 Cups Salted Mixed Nuts
  • 1/4 Cup Sugar
  • 3 Tbs. Packed Light Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tsp. Fresh Rosemary, Finely Chopped
  • 1 Tsp. Onion Powder
  • 1 Tsp. Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp. Ground Ginger
  • 1/2 Tsp. Fresh Grated Nutmeg
  • 1/4 Tsp. Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Egg White
  • 2 Tsp. Water

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
  • In a medium bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar, rosemary, onion powder, salt, ginger, nutmeg and pepper.  Mix well with a spoon.
  • In a separate bowl whisk together egg white and water until frothy.
  • Add nuts to the egg white mixture and toss well to evenly coat.
  • Pour nuts into spice mixture and mix well to evenly coat nuts with sugar and spices.
  • Spray a 12-inch cast iron pan with cooking spray and pour nut mixture into it.
  • Bake at 275 for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
  • Remove nuts from oven and pour out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Allow to cool fully.
  • Break up nuts and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

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These nuts were a huge hit at trivia night recently.  I know we’ll make them often over the next few months with all we have going on.  Don’t have a cast iron pan?  Shame on you!  But you can definitely make these on a heavy non-stick baking sheet.  Also think about varying the herbs and/or nuts to your liking.  I’ve seen similar receipts with just pecans or cashews.  The addition of a little citrus zest would also bring another great flavor element.  Give them a try and tell me what you think.  Dig in!

Dilled Potato & Zucchini Cakes

Going to one of our local deli’s or to any of our abundance of festivals in Cincinnati, you come to expect a good potato cake.  The love child of hash browns and a pancake, it makes a great savory side dish that’s a little different.  We were blackening some halibut tonight and I wanted to try a rift on the traditional potato pancake with the addition of zucchini as well.  A little dill makes them even better.

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DILLED POTATO & ZUCCHINI CAKES

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Shredded Zucchini
  • 2 Medium Potatoes, Peeled & Shredded
  • 1/2 Cup Finely Diced Onion
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 1 Tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 Tsp. Garlic Salt
  • 2 Tsp. Parsley
  • 1 Tsp. Dill
  • 1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper

Instructions

  • Place zucchini and potato in a strainer and squeeze out as much excess moisture as possible.  Place in a medium bowl.
  • Add diced onion, eggs and garlic salt, dill, parsley & black pepper.  Stir until evenly combined.
  • Sprinkle mixture with baking soda and flour.  Stir until just combined.
  • Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add two tablespoons vegetable oil.
  • Drop mixture into hot skillet by the spoonful.  Be sure to spread them out enough to make them as thin as possible.  Fry 2-3 minutes until golden brown, flipping once.
  • Continue frying cakes until you’ve used all of the mixture.
  • Serve immediately with sour cream to lightly top.

Crispy edges, savory flavor and a touch of cold sour cream will have your family asking you to make these often.  It’s not difficult to adjust the recipe with other ingredients if you want to change the flavors.  Try substituting shredded apple for the zucchini for a sweet touch – perfect to serve with breaded pork or smoked sausage.  Try some other combos and let me know what you come up with.  Dig in!

Turkey & Stuffing Roll-Ups

I remember years ago when my wife and I were dating, we were stuck at my apartment during a snowstorm.  With not a lot in the house to eat and only a convenience store across the street I improvised to make her turkey roll-ups for dinner.  Here we are today and it’s one of our favorite cool-weather meals to make.  Using some store-bought ingredients combined with homemade stuffing, these Thanksgiving bites feel like you’ve done your due diligence in actually cooking something!

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TURKEY & STUFFING ROLL-UPS

Ingredients

  • 1 Lbs. Thick-Cut Turkey Breast Lunchmeat
  • 10 Slices White Texas Toast
  • 2 Small Shallots, Diced
  • 2 Stalks Celery, Diced
  • 1/2 Stick Butter
  • 2 Eggs, Beaten
  • 1-2 Cups Chicken Stock
  • 1 Tbs. Parsley
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Poultry Seasoning
  • 1/2 Tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp. Pepper
  • 1 Can Cream of Chicken Soup
  • 1/2 Cup Milk

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a small saucepan, melt butter and add shallots and celery.  Cook 5-7 minutes until translucent and soft.  Remove from heat.
  • In a large bowl, tear bread into 1-inch cubes.  If you don’t have Texas toast, 15 slices of regular white bread will do.
  • Pour 1 cup of chicken stock over bread to moisten.
  • Add shallot & celery mixture and all the melted butter that’s in the pan as well.
  • Add eggs, parsley, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.  Combine with your hands to fully incorporate ingredients.  Do not over-mix to crush bread.
  • Stuffing mixture should be moist all the way through, but not mushy.  Add as much additional chicken stock as needed to reach desired consistency.
  • Place two slices of turkey breast on top of each other.  Add a half cup of stuffing to one end and then roll up the slice.  Place in a 9×9 baking dish lined with cooking spray.  Repeat this process until you have filled the pan with rolls and used all of the stuffing.  Depending on the size of your turkey slices, you may need a larger pan or to roll the last one lengthwise to fit properly.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together cream of chicken soup and milk until smooth.  Spread evenly over turkey rolls.
  • Cover baking dish with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Serve immediately.

Who doesn’t love a little taste of Thanksgiving now and then?  With less than 30 minutes prep time, this is an easy dish that tastes like you spent hours making it.  It’s easy to adjust the recipe to your time and skill level too!  Use a prepared stuffing mix if you prefer and want to save time.  Do you make killer gravy?  Make your own instead of the chicken soup for another dash of homemade flare.  Making a larger portion?  Double the pan size, but make half the rolls with stuffing and half with mashed potatoes.  Dig in!

Creamed Chipped Beef

Fall is definitely here today and few things feel more like fall than comfort food and breakfast for dinner.  As a kid, I couldn’t get on board with the fresh-from-the-freezer version of chipped beef my mom used to microwave.  Sorry mom!  Once I married into a country-cooking family and continued to hone my skills, I learned how to make the real version!  When you see how easy this is, you’ll wonder why you ever had anything other than homemade.

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CREAMED CHIPPED BEEF

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbs. Butter
  • 4 Tbs. Flour
  • 2 Cups Whole Milk (Skim will work, but why not??)
  • 4.5 Ounce Jar Dried Beef
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Cut dried beef into 1/2-inch squares and set aside.
  • In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.
  • Add flour and stir until a smooth paste.  Continue to cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
  • Removed from heat and slowly whisk in milk.
  • Return to low heat and stir constantly until desired thickness, about 4-5 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and stir in dried beef.  Add black pepper to taste.
  • Serve immediately over well-buttered white toast.

Whether this reminds you of grandma’s cooking or your time in the service, I hope you love making and eating it!  Schools of thought on the toast:  definitely white, regular is good, but Texas toast is even better, don’t forget the butter.  And this is also a great to serve on a buffet or for a brunch.  Elevate it with the addition of crustless toast points and/or a sprinkle of fresh parsley and chives.  Dig in!