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Juicy hamburgers and baked parmesan garlic fries

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Dinner the other night was super simple, but it came out SO GOOD I just had to blog about it.

Juicy Hamburgers and Baked Parmesan Garlic Fries
(Parmesan Garlic Fries recipe from Iowa Girl Eats)

To be honest, if we want burgers I’ll usually just buy a pack of patties and cook them up. But we had some lean ground beef in the freezer and I just had a craving. You know how those go. So I decided to make burgers from scratch!

All I did was break up the ground beef and mix in salt, pepper, and 3 pressed garlic cloves. (Yes, I finally own a garlic press. I got a Pampered Chef press for Christmas. 🙂 How was I living without one!?!?) I also remembered a long time ago, I think on Food Network, seeing a tip to add water to your beef to keep the burgers nice and juicy. So I added some water (I didn’t measure but it was probably 2-3 Tbs.) and hand-mixed it into the beef until it was absorbed. I formed the meat into 4 patties (2 went right in the freezer) and placed them on a grill pan over medium heat.

After about 4 minutes we flipped them, added mozzarella cheese, and put the buns on to toast.

I noticed the meat was taking a little longer to cook all the way through, so I did turn the heat up to medium-high for probably the last 2 minutes.

The boyfriend’s toppings (bacon and onion).

My toppings (lettuce, tomatoes, raw onion).

I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of the finished product, but that’s because we devoured these burgers. The garlic flavor was just the perfect amount. And they were so so so so juicy and perfectly cooked. I wish I knew how they turned out so good. It was either the addition of the water or the fact that I started cooking them on a lower heat. I’m not sure! But next time I make these I’m doing it the same way!

Now on to the fries!

I had one medium-sized russet potato and initially wasn’t sure if this would make enough fries for the two of us. But I cut it into really thin rounds and that ended up being plenty. The recipe said to soak the potatoes in water for 1-8 hours to remove some of the starch. I soaked these for about 2 hours.

I then drained the potatoes, and mixed in salt, pepper, garlic powder, parmesan cheese, panko bread crumbs, and extra virgin olive oil. I didn’t measure anything out, just did it by eye. I spread them out on a lightly sprayed baking sheet.

Bake at 450 degrees for 20-30 minutes, flipping the fries over halfway through.

Oh. My. Goodness. These were so good.

The panko bread crumbs added such a great crunch. And let’s be honest, almost everything is better when you add garlic powder and parmesan cheese. The only thing I’ll do differently next time is to cut these a tad bit thicker. Some of them burned because they were too thin. I think the addition of panko bread crumbs will ensure that the crunch is still there, even if you cut them a little thicker.

Overall it was a faaaaabulous dinner!

Do you make burgers from scratch or just buy the patties? I don’t think I’ll ever buy patties again! These burgers were so amazing!

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Easy potluck pasta bake

Today was my first day of physical therapy after my knee surgery, and man was it harder than I thought it would be! I knew that working on getting my bend back would be hard, but I didn’t think trying to straighten my leg all the way would be as painful as it was. I spent over two weeks in this lovely thing…

…so my knee couldn’t bend, but it wasn’t totally straight either. So it’s kind of in this weird limbo spot where I can’t straighten it or bend it all the way! It’s a little sore since I worked the muscles in that leg more today than I have in a month, but I’m just glad that it’s slowly on the mend. I can handle some pain now if it will get me back to doing yoga! And I can’t wait to try yoga for the first time without having the knee pain that the tumor was causing. I’m hoping within the month I’ll be able to go!

Anyway, I wanted to post the recipe for the pasta bake that I mentioned yesterday. It’s really easy and completely customizable to whatever you have on hand or want to throw in it!

Potluck Pasta Bake
Adapted from Italian Food Forever 

Start by cooking your choice of short pasta. I went with just over a half box of whole grain rotini.

Then, choose what you want to put in the casserole. We used the 1 1/2 cups of diced ham suggested in the recipe. For veggies, we had a bag of frozen broccoli and a bag of frozen chopped spinach that were both almost empty, so we thawed those…

…and my sous chef chopped everything up!

While he was chopping, I sauteed 1/2 cup of onions and 2 garlic cloves in 3 Tbs of butter. Then I whisked in 3 Tbs flour and 3 cups of 1% milk until the mixture was smooth. Next, add your choice of cheese. We chose 8 oz. of shredded cheddar. Add salt, pepper, and 1/2 tsp. of oregano. Put the pasta back in the pot and all your chopped components.

So colorful!

Pour cheese sauce into pot and mix everything together. Transfer to a baking dish and top with  1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (I used panko) and 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese. Cover baking dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Then remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until the top is nice and brown and crispy.

We love brown crunchy edges in this house!

This was a great dish – and I think it was even better reheated the next day! I always think that casserole type things, including baked mac and cheese, are better reheated – why is that?!?!

Things I will change next time I make this:
– Add more veggies.
– Use either a combo of different cheeses or try something other than cheddar. The cheddar was great, just not super flavorful. I think maybe some gruyere or fontina would’ve been awesome in this.
– Use less breadcrumbs. I followed the amount in the recipe, but it didn’t evenly brown on top because I think I piled the crumbs too high in some spots.
– more garlic! Because the more garlic the better. 🙂

Overall, very easy, was able to use things we had on hand, and totally customizable!

After eating this for dinner the other night, I promptly pulled this out of the freezer.

Yep. That’s leftover cookie dough from these bad boys. The coconut lime were the boyfriend’s favorite so I made a mini batch for us. They were just as good the second time around! You’d think I’d be trying to lay off the sugar after the holidays. But no. I don’t believe in deprivation. If I want sugar and don’t have it, I get grumpy. 🙂

Do you make casserole-type dishes often? Do you have a favorite or do you just throw in what you have in the kitchen? 

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I’m just going to write.

I’ve been putting off my first post of 2012 because I’m kind of a perfectionist about some things. I’ve been thinking about ways I want to evolve this blog and I haven’t posted because I haven’t fully figured out what changes I want to make. But I think I’ve realized that that’s ok. It’s my blog and it can be whatever I want it to be! It doesn’t have to be, and won’t be, perfect. Ever. So I’m just going to write!

That being said, Happy New Year! The boyfriend and I had a wonderful long weekend. We got a great deal on a new TV, filled numerous trash bags of clothes for donation, took down holiday decorations, and relaxed a lot. I also made a really yummy appetizer on Sunday that we had while we watched the Patriots game. And it’s so ridiculously easy!

Pepperoni Roll Ups
Recipe from Dinner with the Donnells
– 1 can crescent rolls
– pepperoni
– mozzarella cheese (I think shredded melts best, but string cheese works too!)

Just lay out the crescent rolls on a cookie sheet, top with 3-4 pieces of pepperoni, sprinkle with as much or as little mozzarella as you like…

…and roll ’em up! I kind of stretched the dough to seal off the ends, but nothing oozed out anyway. You might want to do this if you add more cheese. (Shout out to my brother – thanks for the new cookie sheets you gave me for Xmas! They’ve already been used many times!)

Then just bake according to the crescent roll instructions, until they’re nice and golden brown.

Mmmmm. Check out that gooey cheesy goodness.

These were so good! Not the healthiest in the world, but super easy to make and very yummy. The boyfriend’s exact words were – “These are basically heaven.” He’s a meat and cheese kinda guy. 🙂

Dinner tonight was leftover potluck pasta bake, which I’ll post the recipe for this week, and a big batch of our favorite kale chips!

What did you do for New Year’s? Did you take advantage of any sales? 

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Thanksgiving recap

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Sorry for the lack of posts recently – the past few weeks have been really hectic!

The boyfriend and I were with my aunt, cousin, her husband, and their five-year-old twins for the holiday. Along with some extended family, there were 15 of us at Thanksgiving dinner! We drove down to Orange County last Wednesday afternoon and just got back Sunday night after a great day at Disneyland!

Unfortunately, I totally neglected taking pictures of all the food. But I managed to snap this one – the remnants of the cranberry apple baked brie appetizer I made – it was a hit!

Cranberry Apple Baked Brie
All I did was unroll a sheet of puff pastry, spread on Trader Joe’s cranberry apple butter, put a wedged of brie in the middle of the puffed pastry, and wrap it all up. I whisked an egg and brushed a thin layer on top of the pastry, and baked at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes until it was golden brown. Here’s a picture of what it actually looked like (from Iowa Girl Eats) since I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough – this dish was devoured!

This was a successful appetizer. It was gone in no time! And you can totally use any type of jam/spread you want for the flavor. I got the idea here, which used pumpkin butter. But the cranberry apple butter was an amaaaaazing complement to the cheese.

I also contributed the mashed potatoes. Unfortunately this is the only picture I got of them, haha – but that’s what 10 pounds of potatoes looks like!

You can obviously cut down the portions on this, but these are the amounts I used to feed 15 people (and we had plenty left over).

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
– 10 lbs potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
– 2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
– 24 ounces sour cream, at room temperature
– 1/4 cup milk, at room temperature
– 2 heads garlic
– salt and pepper

– To roast the garlic, cut off the tip of each head, drizzle with olive oil, and lightly salt and pepper. Wrap in tin foil and bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes.
–  Cook the potatoes in salted water until fork tender, about 15-30 minutes depending on how full your pot is. I actually separated the potatoes into 2 pots so they would cook faster. Drain and return to pot.
– Add garlic, butter, and sour cream. To add the roasted garlic, hold by the stem of the garlic head and just squeeze the cloves out. They should slide out pretty easily.
– Mash everything together with a masher (I made the boyfriend do this part).
– Add in milk in small amounts at a time, until you’ve reached your desired consistency.
– Add salt and pepper.

I’m so sorry I don’t have a picture of the finished product! But these potatoes tasted amazing. There was just the right amount of garlic, and the sour cream makes them so creamy.

We spent the day at Disneyland on Sunday with the family, so unfortunately we didn’t get to take any leftovers home. (We had a cooler but still didn’t want to leave food in a hot car for the entire day.) But if you still have leftovers, check out these great ideas on how to use them!

Some other photos from the holiday…

Our beautiful turkey, stuffed with apples, onions, sage, and rosemary

One of the table settings

Southern California sunset (the picture really doesn’t do it justice)

Disneyland!

What was your favorite part of the Thanksgiving dinner?
I’d have to say my cousin’s yams!

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Chocolate chip cookie pie

The boyfriend loves anything that involves chocolate chip cookie batter, so I thought I’d try out this chocolate chip cookie pie recipe as an alternative to standard cookies.

It was also my first time trying out this baby.

After the disaster that was my $6.99 hand mixer, this one worked great. It had a nice low speed that didn’t splatter batter all over my kitchen. It was $19.99 at Target and came in lots of fun colors. I had the hot pink one in my cart and then decided that if I ever wanted a sous chef out of the boyfriend I’d better get the red instead. 🙂

First step was to cream butter and sugar together.

Then add eggs and vanilla.

After mixing in the rest of the ingredients (we omitted the nuts from the recipe), transfer to a deep dish pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes.

Voila!

Mmmmm, look at that gooey chocolatey goodness. This was SO GOOD. The texture was just like a pizookie – much lighter and fluffier than a cookie dough. And this probably goes without saying, but this pie MUST be served warm with vanilla ice cream on top. It’s just the only way to do it right.

The texture of this recipe was spot on. Honestly, the boyfriend and I both agreed that it didn’t even need a pie crust! And I am a girl that loves anything with a crust. But I think this batter can stand on it’s own.

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Honey pepper tofu

I know a lot of people don’t like tofu, but for me it’s just a vessel for whatever flavors you prepare it with – which means it can taste like whatever you want it to! And don’t give me the argument that it’s squishy and spongy and has a gross texture – not the way I prepare it! It comes out nice and crispy.

I always buy extra firm tofu. Then I cut the block the long way into 3-4 slabs. (The thinner you cut your slabs, the crispier the tofu will come out.) I don’t have a fancy tofu press, so I put the slabs on a cutting board, layer several paper towels under and over the tofu, and cover with something heavy for several minutes to squeeze most of the water out. This time I just piled all my cookbooks on top. Hey, ya work with what ya got.

After 10 minutes or so, I manually press the tofu some more with more paper towels just to get as much moisture out as I can. Then, I lay the slabs on a baking sheet, salt and generously pepper, and drizzle honey over the top. Then I flip the slabs over and do the same to the other side. I really like the contrasting spicy and sweet flavors, so I add a hefty amount of pepper. If you want it to be sweeter, just add less pepper and more honey. I then use a spatula to cut the slabs into little pieces.

Put it into a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes, flip the tofu over, and then bake another 10-15 minutes to desired level of crispiness.

This is definitely my favorite way to prepare tofu! These little squares are great tossed on a salad or even on their own. And they reheat in the microwave really well too.

Do you like tofu? What’s your favorite way to eat it? 

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5 ingredient pasta carbonara

Last night’s dinner was super easy and quick – 5 ingredient pasta carbonara!

We decided to roll with whole wheat linguine.

While the pasta cooked I crisped up some bacon. I tried Trader Joe’s’ ends and pieces and it worked perfectly. These are just the scraps that are typically thrown away when bacon is cut into strips. There was hardly any fat and it was really cheap (I used probably less than 1/4 of the package for this recipe!).

After draining the bacon on a paper towel, but reserving some bacon fat in the pan, I tossed the bacon and cooked pasta together.

Then I quickly poured 1 egg plus 1 yolk, whisked with salt and pepper, over the warm pasta. Because I forgot to reserve some pasta water like the recipe called for (typical that I mess something up), I added about 1/3 cup of water along with the parmesan cheese and tossed it all together.

This was an easy, quick, and delicious dish. It was creamy, salty, chewy, and satisfying. I wish I had cut the bacon up into smaller pieces, but the boyfriend said he actually liked the big chunks. Oh, and if you try this, no need to add any salt – there’s plenty in the bacon!

I halved this recipe, and got the idea from Iowa Girl Eats.

What’s your go-to easy Italian/pasta dish? Do you use whole wheat, regular, or a different type of pasta?
I’ve actually come to really prefer the taste and texture of whole wheat pasta. 

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