Recipe: Taco Wine Braid

Here’s a recipe that is has it ALL.  It tastes fabulous, it’s simple to make, and it looks really impressive… what more could you want?!  I made this for my family this weekend and everyone agreed that it was a terrific recipe that I had to share as soon as possible.  I’ll admit that the name of this recipe sounds a bit odd, but it really is a good descriptor, if you look at the photos.   I was using the base from a previous post (Weeknight Taco Pie) and then got a little creative after watching our cousin Ann whip up a delicious lunch that looked like something from a magazine.

Since I wasn’t going to have a lot of time for dinner prep on Sunday, I decided to cook the “taco meat” part of this meal a day ahead of time.  I started with one package of ground turkey, one packet of taco seasoning and some red wine.  I cooked the ground turkey, added the entire packet of taco seasoning, and then added the red wine.  I substituted approximately the same amount of red wine as the packet called for water (ok… I guestimated, since I didn’t want to use a measuring cup) and allowed the browned ground turkey to soak up every ounce of liquid and taco seasoning before adding one jar of black bean salsa (of the “medium-heat” variety).

NOTE: Since I wasn’t at home and didn’t have any James River Cellars wine on hand, I used a bottle of Malbec that I chose at the local market.  I like Malbec, as a general rule of thumb, so this was an easy call for me.  Remember… use the wine you like to drink or have on hand.  If I’d had an open bottle of Pinot Noir, I could certainly have used that.  The flavor will differ slightly from varietal to varietal, but that’s what makes cooking so much fun.  You can also leave the wine out entirely and just use water OR you can add beef stock/broth in place of the water.  USE THE FORCE… be brave!

TacoWineBraidI cooked the taco/salsa mixture until it was very dry and allowed it to cool a bit before storing it in the fridge for the night.  I don’t always do this, but it actually allowed the flavors to meld and mellow a bit, which was welcome surprise.  If you like your food spicy, feel free to use more seasoning or amp up the flavor using a different salsa.  That’s the beauty of making your own food… you can do what you like!

The fun part of this dish came when I decided not to put the taco mixture into a pie plate and bake it.  On a cookie sheet lined with foil (and sprayed with cooking spray), I laid out two packages of refrigerated crescent dough beside one another (so it looked like a really long rectangle.  I then spooned the taco/salsa mixture down the center and topped it with one package of shredded Mexican-style cheese (again… use what you like here).  Using a knife, I made slits along each side (making sure they matched), starting at the meat mixture and going to the outside edge of the dough (but don’t cut through the foil).

Here’s where it got COOL.  Gather up corresponding edges of dough, bring them to the center, twist them, and lay them back down in line (or slightly overlapped… YOUR CHOICE).  Repeat this with all the strips of dough until you get to the end, then pinch the ends closed.  It should look like the photo on the bottom left-hand corner.  If you want to be really fancy, top with cheese (like I did in the photo), brush with a simple egg wash (easy if you use some egg substitute and a little water), or just spray with cooking spray.  Pop your Taco Wine Braid into a 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, until the dough is nicely browned and you can see some bubbling of the taco meat peeking through the holes in the braid.  Let it sit for a few minutes while you gather the plates to serve this gorgeous dinner to your adoring public.

I like to serve this dinner with some lettuce, tomato, and sour cream… again, this is all personal preference.  For our dinner, I used one head of butter lettuce (because the romaine looked like it would be too much), a small container of grape tomatoes, and a tiny package of light sour cream.  Whatever you choose will be wonderful as long as you use what you like or have on hand.

This was a dinner that was a huge hit with everyone in my family.    See if you don’t get some rave reviews of your own if you make it sometime soon for your own family.  Enjoy!

Recipe: Easy Enchiladas

This is a recipe that I first saw on another blog (kevinandamanda.com) and knew I just HAD to try!  The original recipe called for a lot more cheese and enchilada sauce than I knew my family would like… plus, there was no wine in the recipe.  I just *had* to re-work it into something that would work for me and my wine-inspired blog.  Thankfully, it was a huge hit and has already been made numerous times to great positive acclaim.

EasyEnchiladas

What I love most about this recipe is that it truly is incredibly easy.  I’d always been a bit intimidated by enchiladas for some reason, but not any more when I use this recipe.  Much of this meal was done by simply assembling the ingredients, but first, I had to make some rice.

I used James River Cellars Gewurztraminer wine but could have easily used another favorite wine (Chardonnel, Vidal Blanc, or even Chardonay) to make the rice for this dish.  I used 1 cup of wine, 1 cup of water, and 1 cup of Arborio rice.  I simmered the rice until the liquid was absorbed and the rice was fluffy.  I did add some parsley, salt and pepper, but feel free to add whatever flavors you like in your rice.  Just remember that the rice is a fairly tame part of this assembly line, so don’t go too crazy with the seasonings.

I also decided to use a pre-roasted chicken in this recipe.   I pulled off both chicken breasts and diced the meat small enough to layer in the enchiladas.

Overall, your ingredients are as follows:  tortillas, hummus, rice, chicken, cheese, and enchilada sauce.  As with all my recipes, please feel free to personalize things to your family’s tastes.  Red Pepper Hummus instead of a Garlic Hummus, Mexican cheese in place of Cheddar, Whole Wheat Tortillas as opposed to bulk purchased tortillas or even homemade tortillas. . .  it’s all about making a meal that will make you and your family happy.

Assembling your enchiladas. . . here’s where the fun starts!  Place the tortilla on a cutting board and begin the layering with hummus, a layer of rice (mine is fairly sticky and soft), some chicken, and a sprinkle of cheese.  You can see an example in the second photo from the left… I throw on a fair amount of cheese, but do whatever will make you happy.  I made all the enchiladas, laying them in the baking dish, then poured some enchilada sauce over top and finished by sprinkling on more cheese.  Note:  I loved the Cheesy Enchilada recipe that inspired this alteration but know that my guys would have balked if I had followed her recipe exactly. . .  hence the need for an “Easy Enchilada” recipe of my own.

Once your enchiladas are assembled and ready, you can wait a bit to bake them if you must.  I had a hard time not popping them directly into the oven (I was already hungry by this point) but I was “good” and waited until my darling hubby and son got home from work.  Once they arrived, I popped the baking dish into a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, until the cheese was melty, I could hear sizzling, and there was visible steam rising from the enchiladas.  Seriously. . . I don’t usually use “exact times”, so use your best guess on cooking time, based on your own oven.

As you can see by the large photo of an enchilada, above, these things were really filling.  I thought everyone would end up eating two enchiladas each, but we could barely make it through one.  If you’re making this for a crowd, feel free to expect football players to eat two, but the average person will probably only make it through one.  They are aa-maze-ing!

Hope you find this recipe to be as amazing as we did. . . and, as always, be sure to alter the ingredients to make your own “family favorite”!

Recipe: Chardonnay Croque Monsieur

I made a very “fancy” dinner last night… Croque Monsieur, which is really just a fancy French name for a Grilled Ham and Cheese.  Sounded impressive, yes?  It kinda was… cuz I added wine.  Wait… it gets better… I put it on the CHEESE!

Chardonnay Croque Monsieur

I started with some really yummy sourdough bread from the local grocery store.  I sliced it and popped it into a hot oven to dry the bread thoroughly.  As the bread was drying, I tossed a few tablespoons of Chardonnay with some tasty shredded cheese.  Note:  I used a sharp cheddar with a little mild cheddar thrown in, but I could have just as easily used gruyere or swiss cheese.  Since sharp cheddar is what I had in the fridge, sharp cheddar is what I used.  This is my favorite rule of thumb… use what you’ve already got in the fridge if at all possible.  I really don’t like to have to make a separate trip to the store for one item… I always come home with too many “extras”!  I also made sure that I had some deli sliced ham already in the fridge to be able to use… Check!
The biggest addition to this meal really is just a simple condiment.  I’m not sure what you’d call it, but I stirred together about half a ramekin of fat free sour cream a glob of dijon mustard some garlicsalt and pepper.  I used this flavored sour cream as the “glue” to keep all the layers together during the cooking process.  It was a really tasty addition.  I was making dinner for my husband and myself, so I used enough of all the ingredients to make four open-faced sandwiches (two for each of us).  If you’re making dinner for more people, you’d obviously want to have more ingredients on hand to feed everyone.

Once I had everything ready, I drained the cheese on some paper towels and blotted it to remove any excess moisture.  This is important because the excess liquid ends up making the cheese a little soupy instead of getting browned and toasty as it broils.

Assembling the individual Croque Monsieurs was quite easy.  I spread a thin layer of flavored sour cream on the dry toasts, topped it with ham (I used a thinner amount of ham for myself and a thicker layer for my husband… see?  Individualizing your meal is easy when YOU”RE the cook!), then spread another thin layer of the sour cream mixture.  Check out the photo of this in the collage I’ve included… even at this point, it’s looking delicious!  I piled on enough cheese to make a mound on each sandwich.  The broiler really did all the heavy lifting on this dish… bubbly and hot, these sandwiches were really decadent.

When I told a friend of mine what I was making, she let me know that she really prefers a Croque-Madame… and that is a croque monsieur with a fried egg on top.  I might have to try that one the next time this makes it into my dinner rotation.

Feel free to play around with your favorite cheeses and different deli ham… maybe even try a heavier bread… whatever you do, I hope you’ll try this recipe and see how it’s received in your family.  Tweaking recipes to fit individual tastes is really what makes cooking so much fun.

I may not be a chef… but my family will never starve.  Of this, I am certain!

On a side note:  my darling husband said that he couldn’t look at the name of this dish without being reminded of an episode of Friends, where Joey tries to learn how to speak French.  Apparently, in our house, this dish will always be known as “Joey’s Grilled Ham and Cheese”.  :/  Enjoy this YouTube link!

Recipe: Leftover Ham Casserole

534062_10151607459672953_1949038580_nI totally forgot to tell you about a simple way I found to use up some of that leftover ham I had from Easter – I turned it into a Leftover Ham Casserole!

I chopped up three redskin potatoes into cubes and simmered them in some water until they were almost cooked, but not falling apart yet.  I tossed them in a pie plate with some frozen corn kernels, and some cubes of leftover ham.

I then made a simple cheese sauce using 1T butter, 1T flour, some James River Cellars Reserve Chardonnay (since that’s what I had in the fridge… I was using the white wine that we served for our Easter dinner, so use whatever wine you like best) and let the sauce cook and bubble for a bit to cook out the flour taste.  I decided to add a handful of asiago cheese and a touch of shredded cheddar to make the cheese sauce.  Once incorporated and smooth, I poured this over the base of the casserole and topped it with more shredded cheddar.

The photo on the right shows how the cheese melted and made dinner look yummy when it came out of the oven.  I baked the casserole at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until it was cooked through.  This was a huge hit with everyone in our house!

Recipe: Meritage Cheddar Bread

I pulled out one of my Bread Machine cookbooks recently and was taken with the idea of creating a wine and cheese bread. I had apparently tried this recipe before, as evidenced by some ancient notes I’d written, but was bound and determined to try it again. Since I had some extra sharp cheddar in the fridge and a small amount of red wine from work, I decided it was worth the time to see how this experiment would come out.

I started with a bottle of Veritas’ Vintner’s Reserve red wine. I had helped work the recent Governor’s Cup Seminar and was given the remains of one of the medal winners. This wine is a meritage-like blend that I really enjoyed, so it was a good wine to use, in my opinion. I wanted to use something similar to the James River Cellars’ Meritage and this wine fit the bill for me. I also had some extra sharp cheddar cheese that was leftover from a recent event at the winery, so I really was killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.

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As you can see by the photos across the top of the collage, I used my bread machine for the dough portion of this recipe. It made my life so much easier. Here are the directions for making this bread, using a machine such as the Zojirushi that I have.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup wine
2/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 1/2T margarine
1/2 t salt
3/4 t sugar
2 1/4 c flour
1 1/2 t yeast

Directions:
I put all the ingredients into the machine and allowed it to do it’s work. Once the dough was ready, I separated it into two sections and rolled each as if for French bread. I placed each length on my baking tray and allowed them to rise for 30-45 minutes. Once they had risen sufficiently, I sprayed them with water and baked them in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes or so. I also turned the pan around mid-way through the baking process and sprayed the loaves with water again. As you can see in the photo, the loaves split, so next time I’ll make sure to slice them a few times to allow for steam to vent.

This experiment turned out fairly well, although I might just let the loaves bake in the machine next time to see how they differ. This would be a nice base for a simple garlic toast to accompany a dinner or used as an appetizer under a fresh tomato/basil topping. Try it and see how you’d like to use it… I’d love to hear your feedback!

Recipe: Red Macaroni and Cheese

I love a simple recipe.  I also love to take a simple recipe, like one for macaroni and cheese, and turn it on its ear by adding and altering ingredients to create something entirely different and entirely delicious.  This recipe started out as one of those creative journeys into my childhood favorites… but with an added spark of the here-and-now.

I’ve always loved macaroni and cheese.   It’s a secret indulgence, a hidden splurge, and a step beyond the “blue box” staple that most think of when “macaroni and cheese” is mentioned.  Lots of chefs do their own rendition of this meal and I, while not a chef, have a version that I have served to hungry throngs of volleyball players more times than I can count.  This recipe, howeRed Mac and Cheesever, is one that is heartier than most, with the addition of ground turkey.   While a variation of the original, it’s got the staying power of a great meal.  Feel free to play with the ingredients to suit your own family’s tastes!

Ingredients:

  • 1 package ground turkey
  • ¼ cup Mesquite steak seasoning
  • 1 cup Red Wine (I like using Cabernet Franc or Rad Red)
  • Jumbo elbow pasta
  • 2T butter
  • 2T flour
  • Milk
  • Reserve Chardonnay
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Salt/pepper

Start by browning the ground turkey in a large sauce pan.  You won’t need to use a stock pot or anything very deep since you’ll be transferring the meat into a casserole dish to bake later.  Once browned, top liberally with mesquite steak seasoning and red wine, as you do in taco meat directions, and cook until the liquid is thoroughly absorbed.  I used the same amount of steak seasoning and wine as the taco seasoning packet directs (I always have to recheck that part) and the meat becomes something entirely new and really tasty.

While the meat is browning, cook your jumbo macaroni pasta to al dente and then drain.  Feel free to use another pasta shape if you prefer – I love the fat rounded shape of the jumbo elbow macaroni, so we keep that in the house for just such an occasion.

Once the meat and pasta are both cooked, blend them together in a large casserole dish.  You’ll want to make sure to mix them thoroughly so there aren’t big clumps of either meat or pasta.

Now make your cheese sauce.  Start by melting your butter and flour together and allow them time to bubble a bit to cook off the flour taste.  Alternately add both milk and white wine (equal amounts is fine) until the white sauce is smooth and thickened.  You’ll know you’re done adding liquid if the white sauce is just barely thick but has nice flavor.   I know that doesn’t sound like a very precise term, but I really do feel my way around this part of the cheese sauce.  The sauce needs time to cook and incorporate the milk and wine, so take your time at this point… it can take 7 minutes or more to add/cook the sauce until it “feels right”.  Once you’re happy with the white sauce, add liberal amount of cheese to morph this into your cheese sauce.  I sometimes add a sprinkle of fresh nutmeg before I season with salt and pepper… just a little will go a long way to make this dish your own.  Make sure to taste your cheese sauce… it’s the final touch of this casserole and needs to taste yummy before you add it to the dish.

Pour cheese sauce over meat/pasta, top with cheese, and bake casserole at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until top is nicely browned and cheese is crunchy.  Serve hot.

This is a great dinner to make a day ahead and simply bake that evening.  Since everything has already been cooked, all you’re really doing is bringing all the ingredients together into a wonderful warm meal of comforting goodness… just the right touch after a long day and a chilly drive home.  Add some warm bread and I don’t know many people who could possibly resist…. I know my family wouldn’t!

Recipe: A new twist on Pizza

I love making pizzas with my family. I say pizza with an “S” because I end up making individual pizzas for each of us… I halve, double, or make regular portions of my version of a Weight Watchers whole wheat pizza dough recipe and go from there, depending on who’s having dinner with us that evening. For M, it’s ham and pepperoni… for D, it’s a cheese pizza… if we’re including E for dinner, it’s just pepperoni… but for me, it’s a special black bean and corn salsa pizza. Doesn’t this look delicious?

Here’s how I start. The pizza dough recipe is supposed to make eight servings. After trying to make individual pizzas from this single recipe, I’ve learned that I need to either make 1.5 recipes or double to make four large enough pizzas to feed my guys… it takes A LOT to fill them up… but I digress. Here are the directions to make my pizza dough:

WW Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Makes 8 servings

Sponge:

2 t active dry yeast

¼ cup lukewarm water

¼ cup all-purpose flour

Pizza Dough:

½ cup fat-free milk

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup whole-wheat flour

¼ t salt

2 pkt equal

1. To prepare sponge, in a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over the water; when the yeast looks wet, add flour and stir hard. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let stand at room temperature for about 40 minutes.

2. To make the dough, stir the milk into the sponge. In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, salt and equal. Add to the sponge and stir to blend.

3. Lightly sprinkle work surface with flour. Turn out the dough; knead until it become elastic and resilient, 10-12 minutes. *This is important… dough needs to be kneaded thoroughly for this to work.

4. Spray a large bowl with Pam, place dough in bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap or damp towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in volume, 45-60 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Punch down dough, lightly sprinkle the work surface with flour and roll out dough to a 14” circle. Transfer dough to a baking sheet, arrange toppings and bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Per serving: 3 PointsPlus (1/8)

My NOTE: I make this dough into four individual pizzas that are rectangular and approximately 7”x14” (?). The pizzas are very thin, but I can cut them into 6-8 individual slices and be able to have my own pizza using 6 points for the dough. Totally worth it, imho…

Once the dough is done, I form each person’s pizza. For mine, I roll it into a rectangle (as noted above) and then spray with Pam and sprinkle garlic powder on top. I’m now ready to mix up my version of black bean and corn salsa. Using The Force, I mix a can of drained/rinsed black beans, an equal amount of fresh corn off the cob (or a can, drained and rinsed), mild salsa, some taco seasonings and some Cabernet Sauvignon. I like to also add a spoonful of pesto to add some depth to the taste and use about 1 cup of this mixture to top my pizza. The pesto recipe that I like best is one that my niece created and posted on her blog, PB Fingers and called Sunflower Seed and Walnut Pesto (http://www.pbfingers.com/2012/06/26/sunflower-seed-and-walnut-pesto/). If you want to read her blog, Peanut Butter Fingers, use this link and follow her for some terrific new recipes and great fitness ideas (http://www.pbfingers.com/). I would read this blog every day even if she wasn’t my niece!

After topping the pizza with your salsa, add your favorite cheese blend and follow the cooking directions as noted above. I used a blend of Asiago and Parmesan cheeses in the pizza I made the other night. Here’s how yummy it looked when I pulled it out of the oven.

I like to cut my pizza into 8 pieces and eat it with a knife and fork. There’s so much on top of this pizza crust that it’s just impossible to pick up and eat any other way. I hope you’ll try this pizza dough recipe sometime and play around with different toppings on your own pizza. There are franchises out there that make big money creating bizarre blends for pizzas… take a chance and create something that’s totally yours. You might be stunned at how well it all turns out!