Mixed Greens with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese and Easy Homemade Vinaigrette

25 09 2011

Many of you already know…

I LOVE Cheese!

Cheese this, cheese that, melted cheese on top of this, extra cheese pizza, cheese ravioli…


Healthy salad + Cheese = Hello, WINNER!

(Oh, and don’t forget the easy homemade vinaigrette dressing!)

For the goat cheese:

* 3 oz white Melba toast (trust me – use this, not breadcrumbs)

* 1 tsp black pepper

* 3 eggs

* 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard (I love Jack Daniels’ Honey Dijon)

* 1 Tbsp fresh chopped chives

* 12 oz goat cheese (I used 3  4 oz logs)

* Extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:

* 6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

* 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

* 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

* 1 tsp minced shallot (minced onion works, too, in a pinch)

* 1/4 tsp salt

* Black pepper

* 14 cups mixed delicate and spicy salad greens (think arugula, baby spinach, and frisee), washed and dried

For the cheese:

In a food processor, process the Melba toasts into fine, even crumbs, about 1 minute.  Transfer the crumbs to a medium bowl, and stir in the pepper; set aside.  In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and the mustard.  In another small bowl, combine the thyme and chives.

Using dental floss (trust me, it works), divide the cheese into 12 equal pieces.  Roll each piece of cheese into a ball.  Roll each ball gently through the fresh herbs to coat lightly.  Transfer a few cheese balls at a time to the egg mixture and turn each piece to coat.  Allow excess to drip off.  Gently place the pieces into the Melba crumbs.  Turn each piece to coat, gently pressing to adhere the crumbs.  Repeat with remaining cheese balls.  Using your fingertips, carefully flatten each piece  into a disk about 1  1/2 inches wide and 1 inch thick.  Set on a foil-covered baking sheet.  Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes (do not skip this step).

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

For the salad:

Whisk the oil, vinegar, mustard, shallot and salt in a small bowl until well-combined.  Season with pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Remove the cheese from the freezer.  Brush the tops and sides evenly with a bit of oil.  Bake until the crumbs are golden brown and the cheese is slightly soft, about 12 to 15 minutes.  Transfer the cheese to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

Place the greens in a large bowl, drizzle the vinaigrette over the top and toss to coat.  Divide the greens between individual salad plates; place 2 rounds of goat cheese on each salad and serve.

Did this recipe make you Smile?  I would be honored if you’d become a Facebook fan of mine!  Click here (or copy and paste this link into your browser:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Smiles-in-the-Kitchen/143789102327574).

Cheddar-n-Onion Smashed Burgers with Emily’s Brown Sugar Bacon

14 05 2011

Sometimes, I get so excited about cooking and food that I skip the fine print.

Okay, okay.  It was the bolded, italicized 26-size font subtitle.


I clearly missed it.

“Two Great Griddle Burgers”

Right there, in plain sight.

Completely missed it.

Honestly, it could’a had Vegas-style blinking lights and I’d probably still have missed it.

[I have my moments.]

My war-torn, dog-eared, happily licked, water-spotted, oil-spattered, most recent Food & Wine magazine (June, 2011 edition) contained [what I thought was] such an awesome-sounding burger.

Cheddar-and-Onion Smashed Burgers.


No, I’ll say it outloud; no parentheses.



Of course, I had to make them.

Smashed burgers.  Smashed.

On the grill.

Through the grill grates.

On the grill.  Not griddle.


Well, if you add two “d’s,” subtract and “l,” and add an “e,” you kinda have the same thing.



Ummm.  No.

And because of this fabulous oversight of mine, I will now spontaneously combust our grill when I try to use it next.

[Think of all the onion slices and goo I lost between the grates of the grill because it wasn't a griddle.]

Ummm.  Oops.

Stay tuned for my next blog post to see how this all ends…


So, let me recommend to my favorite cooks in the world (looking at ya’all who are reading this)…

Don’t do what I did and omit the fact that you need a griddle.  Even a skillet will do.

Despite my griddle gaff, these burgers still turned out fantastically delicious.  Wow.

Jake was talking about them for days…

So, imagine what YOU can do when you use a griddle and don’t lose half the meat and half the onions…


You got this!  Put your chef’s hat on and grab your griddle!

Without further a-do, let’s get to this delicious burger that drew my attention over-and-above the bolded, italicized, sub-heading… Yeah.  They’re that good.  Courtesy of Food & Wine, June, 2011 issue, pg 76.  I added Emily’s brown sugar bacon, and used kosher dill pickles but that’s about all I changed.

Makes 4 burgers.


* 16 thin kosher dill (Claussen brand) pickle slices, patted dry, (original recipe calls for same amount, but bread-and-butter pickle slices)

* 4 of your fave larger-sized buns, potato buns or old-style burger buns, buttered and toasted

* 1  1/4 lbs ground beef chuck, 30% fat (you can use lower-fat content, but the fat content is something that binds the smashed burgers together, so I wouldn’t recommend less than 20% fat

* Salt and freshly ground black pepper

* 2 small onions (I used sweet yellow onions), sliced paper thin (think a sharp knife here, friends)

* 4 oz (or so) sharp cheddar cheese, sliced

* Original recipe calls for Umami dust, which is purported to amp the flavor of the burgers, but I couldn’t readily find it (yet – they say it’s coming to stores soon), nor could I readily find the ingredients at my nearest grocery store.  Keep it in mind however – it’ll be available soon at:  www.umamiburger.com.

Emily’s brown sugar bacon

Emily is one of my beautiful, talented and funny nieces…  And she loves brown sugar bacon.  Man, let me tell you… That little Lady has great taste!  The baked version came from my Sis, Roxanne.  Emily is her little girl.  [HI, Emily and Roxanne!!!  :)]

* 10 slices thick-cut bacon

* 2 Tbsp brown sugar

* 1 Tbsp garlic powder

You can cook the bacon one of two ways:

* Stove-top:  Place the bacon in a skillet and fry on one side until just-opaque.  Sprinkle 1  Tbsp brown sugar and 1/2 Tbsp garlic powder over the bacon.  Cook for another minute or two.  Flip the bacon, sprinkle remaining 1 Tbsp brown sugar and 1/2 Tbsp garlic powder.  Cook until desired done-ness (whether you like to crispy or less-crispy).  Drain on paper towels and cut into 1-inch slices.
* Baked:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Lay the bacon in a single layer on the baking sheet.  Sprinkle top side of the bacon with 1 Tbsp brown sugar and 1/2 Tbsp garlic powder.  Bake until just-bubbly, about 12 to 15 minutes.  Remove from oven, flip bacon, sprinkle with remaining brown sugar and garlic powder and bake until desired doneness, about another 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your preference.  Drain bacon on paper towels and cut into 1-inch slices.


Meanwhile, heat a cast-iron griddle until very hot.

Place the pickle slices on the bun bottoms.

Without overworking the meat (over-formed and over-worked chuck for burgers tends to cave to a “meatloaf-ey” feel), loosely form it into balls and place them on the griddle.  Cook the meat-balls over moderately high heat for 30 seconds.  Flatten each ball into a 4- to 5-inch round patty:  place a large spatula on top and squish down, then mend any loose ends along the sides of the burger with the spatula.  Season the patties with salt and pepper.  Cook for 2 minutes, until well-seared.

Press a handful of sliced onions onto each patty.  Using your spatula, carefully flip each burger so the onions are on the bottom.  Top with the cheese (love cheese!) and cook for another 2 minutes.  Cover with a roasting pan (or a deep lid) and cook until cheese is just-melted and a bit gooey, about another minute.  Transfer the burgers to the pickle-covered buns.  Top with bacon slices (as many as your heart desires), and sprinkle with umami dust (if using).  Top with the upper buns and serve.

Enjoy, Friends!  And watch out for those bolded, italicized, 26-font, subheadings!


Cheesy Stromboli, with a Pepperoni or Vegetarian Option

14 03 2011


Cheesy goodness!


Somewhat similar to its counterpart, the calzone, stromboli isn’t quite as well-known or appreciated…

If I remember correctly, I had my first stromboli in downtown St. Louis.  It was love at first bite.  :)

So, when I came across a vegetarian stromboli recipe, I thought is sounded absolutely phenomenal.

But, ya’all know me.  I like meat too, so I threw in a bit of pepperoni (you could also use salami, sausage, andouille); well, you get the idea.  The veggies in the recipe play nicely with each other, and the flavor is truly incredible.

[Yes, I just chowed down on a huge stromboli slice.  YUM.]

The best part?  This recipe is easy, and it’s quick enough for a weeknight dinner.  It’s also great for football season, or for large parties.

Printer-Friendly Version

I adapted the original recipe from Pip & Ebby, adopted from Parenting magazine.

* 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata or black olives

* 8-10 sun dried tomato halves, packed in oil

* 1 Tbsp oil from the sun dried tomato jar

* Bit of flour

* 1 lb pizza dough (either homemade or store bought); I used about 1  1/2 lbs of pizza dough because I like dough-ey-ness.  I rolled the pizza dough together (because they came in 2 different cannisters) during the rolling/flouring step.

* 12 to 15 slices Provolone cheese

* 24-30 slices pepperoni (optional, skip if making the vegetarian version)

* 1 (10 oz) box frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to drain excess water

* 1 (12 oz) jar roasted red peppers, drained, patted dry and cut into strips

* 1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Coat a baking sheet with non-stick spray, and set aside.

Pulse the olives, sun dried tomato halves and oil in a food processor until it forms a paste.

Lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin.  Roll pizza dough into a 14×10-inch rectangle.  Spread the olive/tomato mixture onto the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.

Top with Provolone cheese slices.

Lay the pepperoni on top of the cheese.

Spread the spinach and roasted red peppers on top.

Fold 1 inch of dough over the filling on the short sides of the rectangle.  Then, fold the long sides over, pinching the dough together at the corners.

Starting at one of the long ends, roll the dough as tightly as possible.

Brush the seam line with a bit of egg, and pinch the seam to seal it shut.

Transfer the roll (carefully) to the baking sheet, seam side down.  Brush the entire surface with the remaining egg.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the bread is golden and sounds hollow when tapped.


Don't worry if your stromboli bursts with flavor!



Allow the stromboli to cool and cut into 1-inch strips crosswise.


Cheesy goodness!





Enjoy!  :)


Sausage and Cheese Kolache Bites – Portable and Pop-Able!

15 11 2010

Does it get ANY better than cheese, sausage, warm and fresh bread, topped with butter?  Yeah, frankly, I can’t think of anything better!

Roxanne Camden (check her cooking blog at http://www.roxinthekitchen.blogspot.com) introduced me to full-sized kolaches last Christmas while we visited her and her Family in Houston. I’ve done some research, and they originally came from Czech and Slovak kitchens. They’ve taken up root in many areas of the Heartland, like Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska. Basically, the kolache is a type of pastry, consisting of various fillings, ranging from fruit, sweets to sausage and cheese.

You might have already guessed, but my absolute favorite is the sausage and cheese kolache!

Then I started thinking… “What a great snack a smaller kolache would be!”  So, the kolache bites became a reality!  Portable and Pop-Able!!

The Dough:
The best dough I’ve found is Coolrise Sweet Dough (thank you, Roxanne), and it’s from “Stop and Smell the Rosemary,” by the Junior League of Houston, Inc., available on the web at http://www.juniorleaguehouston.org/. I generally love improvising recipes, but it is extremely important that you follow this recipe carefully, just as it’s written (spoken from experience). :)
* 6-7 cups (I use about 6.5 cups) all-purpose flour
* 2 packages dry yeast
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1.5 tsp salt
* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and divided
* 1.5 cups hot water
* 2 large eggs, at room temperature

Combine 2 cups flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Stir to blend. Add 1 stick of butter and hot water all at once. Beat with a mixer at medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Add eggs and 1 cup flour. Beat at high speed 1 minute, scraping bowl occasionally. Gradually stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough that leaves sides of bowl. If dough feels too “sticky,” add a little bit more flour.

Turn dough out onto a floured board and knead 5-10 minutes. Cover inside of metal mixing bowl with about 2 Tbsp olive oil. Rub to coat bowl with oil. Place dough in bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap, then a towel. Let dough rest 20 minutes.

* 2 packages Johnsonville “Beddar Cheddar” sausages (6 per pack, about the size of a large hot dog) – found near the sausage and bacon areas in your grocery store.  Cut each of the sausages into 4 equal pieces.

* 1/2 to 3/4 of a medium-sized log of Velveeta cheese (just depends on how much you like cheese)  :)

Split the dough in half, then in half again (you’ll have 4 large balls of dough).  Split each dough in half again (you’ll have 8 balls of dough  now).  Split each ball in half again (you’ll have 16).  Split each ball of dough in thirds now (you will end up with 48 pieces of dough, total).

Cut the Velveeta in half, then in half again (you’ll have 4 smaller logs of cheese).  Cut each log in half again (you’ll have 8 logs now).  Cut each log in half again (you’ll have 16 now).  Cut each smaller log in 3 equal pieces (you’ll have 48 equal-sized cheese chunks, total).

Place 1 sausage bite and 1 small cheese chunk in the middle of each doughball.  Wrap the dough around the sausage and cheese, making sure that no cheese or sausage are peeking out.  Roll the dough around in your hands, forming a small ball.  Pinch together any pieces of the dough that aren’t adhering together and roll in your hands until round and smooth.

You may have to bake these in batches, depending on how many Pyrex dishes you have.

Grease 2 13X9 Pyrex dishes (I used non-stick spray).

Place the balls in the Pyrex dishes, leaving a little space between each kolache ball.

Brush 1/2 stick melted butter onto each kolache. Place pans in oven. Cook 25 minutes. Brush with other 1/2 stick of melted butter. Bake for another 30 minutes or until golden.

These are phenomenal when they’re right out of the oven (okay – watch out – they’re hot!).  Or, you can reheat them for about 20-30 seconds in your microwave.  Jake swears that they’re even good cold!  I think he might be biased… ;)

Kolache bites are definitely something to Smile about!  :)

You May Be a Cheesehead If… My Top Recommendation for Mozzarella Shopping

8 11 2010

Well, maybe I’ve been called a “Cheeseball” before… Yup. And if I could eat cheese all day, I probably would! :) So, does that make me a “Cheesehead” too??? Yup.

But I’m a bit picky when it comes to that cheesy goodness… So, when I noticed a huge difference between different Mozzarella cheeses, well, I just had to share… I compared 3 different mozzarella types, and here are the “grand” results:

* HAPPY DANCE! The fresher-than-fresh mozzarella in water, typically found in your grocer’s deli area, was far-and-above the winner. It won in freshness, taste and melt-ability (yup, I just made up a word). Although it might cost you and arm and a leg, I truly believe the quality speaks for itself.

* BROUGHT A SMILE. The low-moisture rounds in the cheese section were purdy darn good, if you ask me. Not quite like the fresh type, but the taste was good and they melted just fine over my bruschetta. The cost is more reasonable, too.

* BOOOOOOOOOO. I tried to save a lil “cheddar” (I’m feeling clever on my pun! Ha!) and buy the cheaper block of low-moisture mozzarella (usually made by the store brand in the cheese section). The taste was inferior, it was bland, and it looked like draped plastic over my poor bruschetta. Yuck. Stay far-far away from this dude.

That’s the “proof in the cheese,” Ladies and Gentlemen! Now, go on out and have a super-rich, cheese-filled day!

Smiles, as always. :)

Cheesy Broccoli, Chicken and Rice Casserole – An Entire Dinner in 1 Dish

29 10 2010

The best dinner can be the simplest… For instance, do you have leftover rice? Leftover chicken, maybe? A bit of fresh broccoli? Well, ya got the ‘gredients to make this big ‘un happen! I’ll outline the main ingredients, but if you have leftover substitutions, use ‘em! Easy, rich and delicious! All in under 25 minutes or LESS!

* 2 (8.8 oz) packages Uncle Ben’s ready rice (or 4 cups of leftover rice or 4 cups Boil in a Bag rice – your choice)
* 1 1/2 lbs chicken tenderloins – cut into 1-2 inch cubes (I love the fresh chicken tenders they sell at Scholari’s)
* Salt and pepper
* 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
* 1 onion, chopped
* 1/4 cup flour
* 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
* 1/2 cup heavy cream
* 1 1/2 lbs broccoli, florets chopped, stems peeled and sliced thin crosswise
* 3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
* 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat broiler. Spray a thin coating of non-stick spray over the bottom of a broiler-safe baking dish.

Cut small slits in rice packets and nuke until hot, about 90 seconds. Remove rice from packets and spread evenly over bottom of broiler-safe baking dish.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Melt 1 Tbsp butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken until light golden brown and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to the baking dish, arranging in a single layer over the rice.

Add remaining butter and onion to empty skillet and cook until the onion begins to brown and become fragrant, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook until thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute (this is our roux). Whisk in broth and cream. Simmer until thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine broccoli and 1/4 cup water in a microwave-safe bowl, cover and nuk until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain broccoli.

Stir mustard, 1 cup cheese and broccoli into our roux in the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Pour broccoli-roux mixture over chicken and rice in the baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top and broil until the cheese is browned, 2-4 minutes. Serve hot!


Vegetarian Dish – Creamy Pesto and Cheesey Lasagna Layers

29 10 2010

A vegetarian dish in under 30 minutes!! Holy smokes! You heard right! This rich and delicious dish can be “whipped up” quickly and easily… It’s a great weeknight meal and boasts a satisfying, yet “veggies-only” status! I think that spells Y-U-M!

Serves 4.

* 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
* 12 no-boil lasagna noodles (Barilla is one of the companies that makes “no boil” lasagna noodles)
* 1 (6 oz) package baby arugula
* 1 (15 oz) container whole milk ricotta cheese
* 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
* 1 tsp grated lemon zest
* 1 large egg
* Salt and pepper
* 1 (7 oz) container prepared pesto
* 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Brush 1 Tbsp oil on bottom of baking sheet. Place noodles in a large baking dish and cover with boiling water. Let soak for 10 minutes, agitating noodles occasionally to prevent sticking.

Meanwhile, place arugula in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and nuke until wilted, about 2-4 minutes. Drain and roughly chop. Combine ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, lemon zest, egg, chopped arugula, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper in a bowl.

Remove noodles from water. Place in a single layer on a kitchen towel. Arrange 4 noodles on oiled baking sheet. Spread 1 Tbsp pest over each noodle. Spread 1/4 cup ricotta mixture evenly over the pesto, following by 2 heaping Tbsp mozzarella. Repeat with 1 more layer of noodles, remaining pesto, remaining ricotta mixture and 2 heaping Tbsp mozzarella. Finish with remaining layer of noodles, remaining mozzarella and remaining Parm to make 4 stacks. Bake until cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown and filling is heated through, about 10 minutes or so. Cut each stack in half crosswise. Using a spatula, place each half stack on top of its other half. Serving piping hot.



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