Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza


We have one brewery in our little, tiny town. One place that dares to ferment their own beer. The hubby and I are big, big fans. I'll take a draft Pilsner any day over a bottle of any over-produced mainstream lager. It's a good day when we parallel park in front of the 100-year old building, open our car doors, and smell YEAST.  That means beer is being brewed that day. Beer that the hubby and I may be sipping on in a couple of months. This brewery is one of the only non-chain restaurants in a small, dying town filled with Buffalo Wild Wings, various Roadhouse's, and a McDonald's every 2 miles or so. As such, it's one of the only restaurants in town that we frequent. It's our top spot for date night, you can find us there about once a week. While we may go for the beer, we stay for the pizza. 


The brewery uses a thin, crispy crust that is to-die-for when they bring it to your table straight out of the pizza oven. It makes a crunch sound if you tear it in half. I love when places uses this type of crust, it's my favorite. They make a specialty pizza called, you guessed it, The Chicken Bacon Ranch. It's the best pizza there, and also, the most expensive. They have it half-price on Tuesdays, so if it's a Tuesday, you know what I be ordering. So, when I had some leftover rotisserie chicken and a few lonely strips of bacon, I decided it was time to make a homemade version. 

And the hubby went nuts. He loved the homemade version, and he's not even as crazy about the brewery pizza as I am. I think the homemade crust did him in. I could put anything on homemade pizza crust and he'll go coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs over it. 


The pizza sauce is ranch dressing, and I think that's part of the appeal of this pizza. The ranch dressing gives the pizza such a distinct flavor, and pairs perfectly with chicken and bacon. This pizza wouldn't be nearly as special with a plain red sauce. I haven't found my perfect ranch dressing recipe yet (a 2015 goal perhaps?) so I used a combination of sour cream, mayo, and a ranch dressing seasoning packet. The hubby really liked the ranch, but as I mentioned, it's not "The One". At any rate, testing out different ranches sounds like something I'll be doing in the not-too-distant future. You could also use bottled ranch dressing for this pizza, or substitute your favorite recipe. 


All right, change of subject time. I only have 2 items on my to-do list today:

1. Early morning doctor's appointment (boo!)
2. Bake Christmas cookies (yay!!!)

As soon as I get home, I plan on putting on a Christmas movie (I think it's going to be "Love Actually" today), getting out my tubs of flour and sugar, and having a grand old time tossing cookie dough around the kitchen.

It sounds heavenly :) 

Have a wonderful Wednesday everyone!


Ingredients (makes 1 large pizza):

cornmeal
3 tbsp ranch dressing
1 cup chicken, cooked, diced or shredded
3 slices of bacon, cooked, crumbled
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced (optional)

Directions:

1. Prepare the pizza dough according to directions.
2. Preheat oven to 550º. Place a baking stone on the top rack. Allow oven to preheat for 1 hour. While oven is preheating, remove dough from fridge and allow to come to room temperature. 
3. After oven has preheated for 1 hour, turn oven off and turn "broil" on. 
4. Roll your pizza dough out onto a well-floured surface and into a large circle. Remove baking stone from oven (CAREFULLY!) and place on its rack. Sprinkle cornmeal over baking stone. Move large circle of dough onto baking stone. Brush ranch dressing all over the dough. Sprinkle the chicken and bacon evenly over the dough. Evenly sprinkle the cheese over the dough. Place baking stone back in oven, and broil for 5-7 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the pizza has begun to get browned and toasted in areas. Remove from oven, sprinkle with parsley (if using), slice, and serve immediately. 



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Monday, December 15, 2014

Vanilla Cupcakes with Whipped Eggnog Frosting



Holy eggnog frosting Batman!

Oh my goodness. This frosting is... There are no words. It's, like, eggnog-a-licious. It's creamy. It's sweet. It tastes exactly like eggnog! I tried an eggnog cream cheese frosting a couple of years ago, and it just didn't taste like eggnog. I believe that recipe only called for 1-2 tbsp's of eggnog, while this recipe calls for a cup and a half. It makes a huge difference. I paired my simple, but completely delicious, vanilla cupcakes with this statement frosting. It's a perfect pairing. All you need is a few sprinkles, and these cupcakes are Christmas fun!

The hubby went nutty over these Christmas cupcakes. I was surprised, as he's not the biggest lover of eggnog I've ever met. He gave these 2 big thumbs up. 



I know you're all thinking, what is this girl doing baking cupcakes when this week is going to be Bake-A-Poolza?? 

In truth, I baked these to keep me from diving into baking the Christmas cookies way too early. I'm revved up and ready, so I needed a project to keep me busy. And my plan worked!



Today, however, I'm allowed to get excited about Christmas baking. Because it's time! The hubby and I are headed out with a fairly large list that if it were to be found on the ground, one would assume they'd found Will Ferrell's "Elf" grocery list. Boxes of cake mix, melting candy, cream cheese, M&M's, Reese's, Rolo's, Oreo's, etc. I have no idea what the cashier will be thinking when she rings up my order.

Actually, come to think of it, she'll probably think, "Christmas baking". So scratch that :)


Did everyone have a great weekend? I did! I accomplished everything I set out to do. Ran, rested, did yoga. Did my weekly cleaning of the house. Baked and photographed cupcakes. Made and photographed Salted Caramel Milkshakes. Actually, I made them Boozy Salted Caramel Milkshakes, and that was the end of productivity. The boozy milkshakes led to immediate relaxation and a frantic Pinterest pinning session. A perfect end to a fairly productive weekend. It's back to reality today however, as the hubby has an early morning MRI on his knee. He's been having some knee pain while running, so we are sneaking in an MRI at the end of this year since our deductibles have been met. If his MRI is clear, I'm guessing he'll start physical therapy on his knee so he can rejoin me in running in the future. 


Before I go, I'll point out that this is another post brought to you completely by my artificial photography light. I've been really pleased with the results I'm getting. Practice makes perfect!

Happy Monday friends!


Ingredients (makes 1 dozen cupcakes):

Eggnog Frosting-
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups eggnog
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened, cut into small cubes
pinch of nutmeg

Vanilla Cake-
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 egg whites
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
3/4 cup milk (I used 1%)
2 tsp vanilla extract

sprinkles (optional)

Directions:

1. Frosting- In a small saucepan, combine sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt. Add eggnog, and whisk to combine. Place saucepan over medium heat. Cook mixture until very thick, like brownie batter. This should take 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat, and place in a clean bowl (I used my stand mixer bowl). Chill in fridge for 30 minutes. Remove from fridge and allow to come to room temperature. When mixture is room temperature, mix in vanilla. Piece by piece, begin to incorporate the butter (I used my stand mixer to whip the frosting). Whip for 4-5 minutes, or until butter is completely incorporated. Allow frosting to sit for 30-60 minutes at room temp before using to allow frosting to stiffen. 
2. Cupcakes- Preheat oven to 350º and line a cupcake pan with liners. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Whisk to mix. In another mixing bowl, combine melted butter and sugar. Whisk to mix. Whisk until no lumps remain, mixture will be thick and gritty. Mix egg whites, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract until well combined. Add flour mixture to butter mixture. Mix until mixture is smooth (I just did this by hand). Divide batter among cupcake pan, bake in preheated oven 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out with moist crumbs. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting. 
3. Divide frosting among cupcakes, and sprinkle with sprinkles, if using. Store in an airtight container. You may have extra frosting, frosting can be kept in the fridge for up to 1 week. 


Frosting recipe by Eat Cake For Dinner.  Cake recipe adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction


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Friday, December 12, 2014

Creamy Shells and Cheese

-with broccoli and grilled chicken



If December were to call for any kind of food, I would think it would call for comfort food.

Yes, December is a month for indulging in all things food, it's true. However, you also have to keep in mind that December brings cold, cloudy, gloomy weather. It always seems to bring a time crunch. I mean, doesn't it seem there is never enough time this month? Between shopping for gifts, baking and cooking, relatives in town you only see but once a year, Christmas decorating, Christmas recitals and pageants... Where's the time to breathe? To sneak in some yoga? To calm down? There's not a lot. My advice? Slow it down at dinnertime a little bit. This recipe is super-quick and easy, but it's guaranteed to get your family in the kitchen to enjoy it. What's not to love? It's a one pot meal slathered in delicious cheese sauce. Yep, sure to be a hit :)


Call me crazy, but I enjoy grilling year round. I may not sit around on the patio in the snow and sleet while the meat cooks on the grill, but I'll run in and out of the house to do some flipping. I just set my timers, and run. This year is a lot better than last though, because I have a garden path to run along to the grill. You know, instead of running and tripping through mud. Grilling is my preferred method with chicken. It gives it the best flavor, and comes out juicy every time. 


The pasta is customizable. Throw in your preferred shape. I'm obsessed with mini-pasta right now. I used these mini-shells for this dish, but I am pretty preoccupied with mini-farfalle right now too. 


While you can definitely use fresh broccoli, I use frozen most of the time. I have frozen broccoli on hand 100% of the time, making this recipe a complete pantry recipe for me. Something I can always throw together without having to make a trip to the grocery store. I steam the broccoli in a little steamer basket over the boiling pasta, it's a complete time-saver. I love steaming broccoli whenever I make pasta simply because of that reason- two things cooking at once. With relative hands off-ness. 


Here's another benefit of making this dish- Just as the pasta is customizable, so is the rest of the recipe! You could sub in a different vegetable, such as cauliflower, zucchini, asparagus, or even something like spinach. And you could totally use a different protein, such as shrimp, pork tenderloin, ground beef or turkey, or even something vegetarian like tofu. Or heck, you could even make the shells and cheese with no protein or veggie. Call it a side dish and watch the kids go nuts.

I cannot guarantee the kids won't turn up their noses and ask for Kraft mac-n-cheese, however. Only because I know that's what I did as a kid :)


It's Friday! Another week of Christmas shopping in the record books, though I can't say I've done any. Procrastination is my Christmas game, although I will be starting cookies probably on Monday. I can't wait! The hubby is working this lovely, sunny weekend so here's my agenda:

1. Run today, rest tomorrow, yoga and toning on Sunday.
2. Bake cupcakes (Vanilla Bean with Eggnog Frosting, yum!).
3. Take beautiful pictures in the sunlight of said cupcakes and the Salted Caramel Milkshakes I created (double yum!).
4. Finish my gosh-darn library books to leave my end-of-year book list at 24. Which would mean I averaged 2 books a month in 2014. A good jumping off point for 2015. 

The sunshine is making it soooooo easy to love life today :)

Have a great weekend everyone!


Ingredients (serves 4):

1 chicken breast
salt, pepper, garlic powder
8 oz mini shell pasta
12 oz broccoli florets
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk (I used 1%)
3/4 cup cheddar cheese
3/4 cup white cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper

Directions:

1. Season chicken breast with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Heat gas grill over high heat. When hot, turn middle burner down to medium. Place chicken on grill, grill for 4 minutes with lid closed. Flip chicken, and grill another 4 minutes. Flip chicken again, grill for 2 more minutes. Flip chicken one more time, and grill for a final 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to rest while preparing recipe.
2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add pasta to water, stir. Place broccoli in a steamer basket, place over pasta water. Steam broccoli for 4 minutes, remove from heat and set aside. Continue to boil pasta for another 2-3 minutes or until tender. Drain pasta, and set aside. Add a little olive oil to pasta to keep from sticking.
3. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. When melted, add flour and cook down for 2-3 minutes. Slowly pour in the milk in 3-4 additions, whisking constantly. When milk/flour mixture is smooth and slightly thickened, add cheeses, salt, mustard, garlic powder, and pepper to skillet. Stir constantly until cheese is completely melted. 
4. Chop up chicken breast into bite-size pieces. Add chicken and broccoli to pan, toss to coat with cheese sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until everything is heated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. 


Recipe adapted from Eat, Live, Run
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