Greek Melo Cheesecake

This is one of the easiest and most delicious cheesecakes I’ve ever made. The recipe comes from a Mediterranean cookbook my friend Trish used to have. It was a thin volume with a blue spine and “Mediterranean” in the title, and that’s all I can remember. I believe it’s out of print, but I would snatch. it. up. if I ever ran across it again.

Ingredients:

For crust:

  • 2 cups walnuts, toasted (place on cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees F for 5 minutes) and cooled
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For filling:

  • 4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons each grated orange and lemon peel

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Place ingredients for crust (walnuts, sugar, cinnamon) in a food processor and mix until nuts are finely ground.
  3. Press crust mixture into a 9-inch springform pan and set aside.
  4. Mix cream cheese, honey, sugar, and vanilla until thoroughly combined and smooth.
  5. Add eggs and mix until blended, then stir in orange and lemon peel.
  6. Pour filling over crust mixture.
  7. Bake for 50-55 minutes until center is almost set.
  8. Cool and then refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.
  9. Serve garnished with walnut pieces, orange slices, and honey.
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Stir Fry Secrets

We do stir frys on the regular, but in the last year or so I’ve learned a couple of secrets that have dramatically upped my stir fry game. Apparently it’s all in the method.

1) Velvet the chicken*–this is the biggest game changer

2) Have everything ready to go, including meat and vegetables chopped and sauce made–I mean, I guess this isn’t really a secret; maybe everyone already does this, but, like starting with a clean kitchen, this tip is money

3) Use one pan–first do your meat (then remove it), then add vegetables in order of cooking time needed, then add the meat back, and finish with your sauce (just long enough to coat everything really)

The nice thing about stir frys is that they are so flexible. This one is my go-to recipe, but it is endlessly changeable depending on what you have (or don’t have) on hand:

*Velvet the chicken–I’m guessing it’s called this because it makes the chicken velvety? I don’t know; I just know this method keeps the chicken from being dry or chewy. I’ll never skip this step if I can help it.

  • 1-2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into thin strips or cubes
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil

Combine all these ingredients together and then marinate the chicken while you prepare the sauce and vegetables. Meanwhile, bring water to boil in a medium/large saucepan or wok-like pan.

When your sauce is made and vegetables chopped, boil the chicken for three minutes, drain, and set aside.

Prepare the sauce

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I usually leave this out per family preference)
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-Spice
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 cup coconut aminos (you can also use soy sauce, but since it has a stronger flavor, I’d probably use less)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Combine all these ingredients and set aside.

Prepare the vegetables

Go crazy with whatever you like. I usually use about

  • 1 small head of broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
  • 1-2 carrots, sliced
  • 1-2 bell peppers, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced

Put it all together

  • oil
  • vegetables you’ve prepared
  • chicken you’ve velveted
  • sauce you’ve prepared
  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan or wok (I use the same large pot/skillet/saucepan thing I used earlier for the chicken).
  2. Add the vegetables and sauté until almost tender (usually about 5 minutes for the onions and carrots; I’m usually fairly lazy and throw all in at once, but you could go crazy and add the faster-cooking vegetables later).
  3. Add the chicken back to the pan and then add the sauce.
  4. Toss and let cook for just a couple of minutes to let the flavors blend.
  5. Serve over rice or noodles.

Baked Tacos

This meal is by far–by far–the biggest hit ever for my family. It’s pretty simple–you make tacos and put them in the oven to melt the cheese. Easy with a big payoff–all the winning.

In my opinion, the tacos work better with a bean situation on the bottom (Simon and I like refried beans and black beans, Ian likes just refrieds, and Clara likes just black). Jason, of course, opts out of the beans, and I think his tacos are just a little soggy on the bottom, but he doesn’t mind; he raves about these tacos just as much as anyone else.

Ingredients:

  • 10 stand-up taco shells (Old El Paso is the only brand I know that makes these, but it’s the flat bottom, not the brand that is important here)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced (or, you know, red onion if that’s what you have)
  • 2-3 cups cooked chicken, shredded or cubed (I use a rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles, drained very well
  • 1 package (1 ounce?) taco seasoning (I use 3 tablespoons of homemade taco seasoning)
  • refried beans (1/2 a can or so)
  • black beans (1/2 a can or so)
  • shredded cheese (most of an 8-ounce bag probably)
  • taco toppings of your choice: green onions, cilantro, sour cream, salsa, jalapeños, etc.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, and bake shells by themselves for 5 minutes to crisp them up (they will fit rather loosely in a 9×13 pan, 6-8 down the middle and 2 or 4 on the sides).
  2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft (3-5 minutes).
  3. Add the chicken, tomatoes and chiles, and taco seasoning to the skillet and mix well.
  4. When the shells come out of the oven, fill the shells with beans on the bottom (refried, black, or a combination), then the chicken mixture almost to the top. Top with a generous amount of cheese on each taco.
  5. Bake 7-10 minutes until cheese is melted.
  6. Server with your favorite taco toppings.

Quick Red Coconut Curry Noodles

Mel’s Kitchen Cafe somehow convinced me to make this dish last night. I’ve avoiding learning to make my favorite foods—yes, it is absurd—so I can enjoy them at my favorite restaurants. Dumb. Glad the tides are turning. Next time I’d like to try this Thai Coconut Curry, which is a little different. I have a few cooking notes down below, but the quick take is that this tasted really great on a Saturday night and I will make it again with tweaks.

INGREDIENTS:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips
1 tablespoon oil
2 cans light or regular coconut milk
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cups sweet Thai chili sauce
2 ¼ cups chicken broth
1 (13.5 ounce) package rice noodles (about ¼-inch wide)
1 yellow onion, sliced into thin half moons
2 red peppers, cored and sliced thinly
1 cup broccoli slaw or thinly sliced matchstick carrots
1 teaspoon salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a large pot over medium heat, scoop the cream off the top of each can of coconut and put it in the pot. (If using light coconut milk, there won’t be cream to use, so use the 1 tablespoon oil called for in the recipe). The cream will be used as the “fat” instead of oil or butter. Along with the cream, add the curry paste and ginger. Let this simmer, stirring constantly, for about one minute.

Add the chicken and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink, about 5-6 minutes. Add the coconut milk, sweet Thai chili sauce, cilantro, and chicken broth. Bring this to a simmer.

Add the red pepper, broccoli slaw (or carrots) and rice noodles and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the noodles from sticking to the bottom, for about 5-8 minutes. The noodles will thicken and plump up as they absorb the liquid. The mixture will be slightly soupy when the noodles are finished cooking.

Take the pot off the heat and let the noodles sit for about 5 minutes. The mixture will continue to thicken. Garnish with more cilantro, if desired.

**Two cans of regular coconut milk is a little much for me. The creaminess, the fat content, the weight of it in my stomach veers over the edge just slightly, so next time I might try the light coconut milk cans or simply reduce the amount I’m using. I skipped the red peppers for the sake of my non-pepper loving family members and I doubled the amount of broccoli slaw. This works, but I’m craving more veggies. This recipe can definitely handle chunky vegetables. Some commenters noted they added fish sauce at the end, and other doubled the amount of red curry paste. Both seem like potential good ideas to me. I wanted more of a spice kick, but again, for my child in particular, I didn’t want too much heat. Really yummy recipe, the smells flooded my house with happiness. But I think I can do a bit better next time.

Summer Coucous Salad

My church is full of good cooks. Some are actual noteworthy chefs in our city (small church, I don’t know how we got so lucky) and others seem to have the knack for deliciousness all on their own, surely a skill developed by years of cookbook reading and kitchen work. At our recent summer camp there were several amazing quinoa and/or couscous salads. This was one of them, and oh was it yummy. Thanks for the recipe, Jen!

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups whole wheat couscous, uncooked
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
6 green onions, white and green parts chopped
1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh basil or 1 tablespoon dried basil
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup reduced fat feta cheese

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. Stir in the couscous. Cover the pan, remove from the heat and let stand for five minutes. Transfer the couscous to a large bowl and fluff with a fork. Let the couscous cool to room temperature.

In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, red pepper, slat, paprika, and pepper. Set aside.

Add the chopped green onions, basil, tomatoes, lemon zest and feta cheese to the cooled couscous and toss. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and stir or toss until combined. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

**I couldn’t be bothered by low sodium or reduced fat options this time around. Bring on the salt and fat! At least, today. Tomorrow I might change my mind.

Salted Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

chocolatechip_cookies_dark

Livia and I tag-teamed this recipe last week and were super happy with the results. This might be my new favorite chocolate chip cookie.

2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
12 TB unsalted butter, melted
1 C loosely packed brown sugar
1/2 C sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 t vanilla extract
8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars until combined and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in egg and egg yolk until just combined, and then beat in vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the dry ingredients until just combined. Beat in the chopped chocolate.

Scoop or drop 1 1/2 to 2 TB of dough onto the baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches in between. Sprinkle each dough ball with coarse salt. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until set in the center and slightly golden. Let cool completely–these are amazingly chewy once cooled!

**I used 2/3 dark chocolate chips and 1/3 semi-sweet. Someday I’ll get brave enough to try 100% dark.

Creamy Pesto Shrimp

I used Knorr’s creamy pesto sauce packets for a fast and large meal with rotisserie chicken, so it’s nice to use it with shrimp, too. I’m aware some folks don’t like to use pre-made flavor packets… but I feel sorry for those people because, let’s face it, McCormick’s chili packets make the best chili. My family loved this dish.

2 T olive oil
1lb uncooked large shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 1/2 C milk
1 pkg Knorr Creamy Pesto sauce mix
1 C grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 grated parmesan cheese
2 T lemon juice
8oz your fave pasta, cooked & drained

Heat oil in large skillet over med-high heat and cook shrimp, stirring occasionally until shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes. Remove shrimp and set aside.

Stir milk and Knorr mix into skillet and bring to boil over med-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until sauce is thickened. Stir in shrimp, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and lemon juice. Toss sauce with hot pasta and serve.