DISCLAIMER!!!  I have never had any formal training as a chef.  I have no specific heritage which allows me to claim any flare for culinary genres that dazzle the taste buds.  I have watched a lot of Food Network, read a lot of magazines and blogs, and tried a lot of different recipes and techniques.  Everything I share here is simply my opinion-period.  I like what I like.  I have my own style when it comes to food and that's what I put on a plate.  I use as many fresh ingredients as I feel is worth my time, money, and flavor.  My opinion is that if I use quality ingredients I will be satisfied faster and will eat less.  I have put it to the test and it works for me.  I eat less when I am satisfied by what I have eaten.  So, I use butter and whole milk dairy (for the most part)-I don't apologize.  I use all sorts of meat-I'm a carnivore.  I work to balance my family's diet, so I also add a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, but my favorite things to share  will be my entrees.  I hope you find something you like and want to try.  If not, keep looking.  I hope I can inspire you to get into your kitchen and find out what your hands can make today!

Sundried Tomato Spread

1/8-1/4 c sundried tomatoes in oil and italian herbs
1/2-1 clove garlic, minced
**you can use it out of a jar, just make sure I'm looking the other way**
1 Tbs dried parsley
1 tsp dried basil
 1 8oz brick cream cheese (can use reduced fat), softened
1/4 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
**do NOT use Parm in a can...just trust me...DON'T do it**

First, put those tomatoes in your food processor and pulse them until they are all pulverized, like this:

These are the tomatoes I used, but choose whichever brand you like.

**I gave you a sliding scale on the tomatoes and garlic because not everyone likes a really strong flavor.  If you are afraid of a strong garlic flavor go with the lesser amounts of both the tomato and garlic to start.  You can always add more, but you can't take it back once it's there.**

Next, add the garlic and herbs and whirl it around for a couple of pulses.  Scrape down the sides, then break up the cream cheese and toss it in.


Now, pulse it for a few times until it all comes together in a beautiful orange spreadable consistency.  Then, add the Parmesan!

Give it another few pulses and scrape down the sides if it isn't all blended. 

Finally, find something to put it on!  For the purely strong at heart, you can eat it out of the bowl.

I find these in the chip section of my Costco.  L-O-V-E them!

There you have it...Sundried Tomato Spread!

Should keep refrigerated, of course.  Haven't tested how long in the frig.  My guess is 7-10 days.

Parmesan Chicken Bake

This is a recipe that I have worked on and worked on.  I originally took it from a great mentor, Chef John, over at  I love his style!  I, however, wanted something a little different out of this recipe.  I use his same recipe, but put it together differently than he does.  We like pieces of chicken a little better than the whole breasts sometimes and find making the recipe my way imparts a little more flavor to the chicken as well.  Give it a try.  My kids L-O-V-E this dish, leaving very few leftovers.  If you want to see the original recipe, here's the link:

1 1/2-2 # boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-2" chunks
1-2 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups marinara (or prepared spaghetti sauce)
1/4 c. fresh basil leaves
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded, divided
4 oz. Parmesan cheese, shredded, divided
5 oz. (3-4 c.) garlic croutons


Brown the chicken chunks in the olive oil over medium high heat.  You just want to sear the outside of the chicken.  I found if I did not sear the outside that there was far too much liquid in the bottom of my final dish and made the topping soggy.  I also do not add the salt and pepper at this stage.  Just sear them in the pan.    I have to cook my chicken in batches as I don't have a pan large enough to cook it all at once, so prepare your baking dish by spraying it with non-stick spray (only because I haven't tried it without and don't want the topping to stick).  Place each batch of chicken into the prepared pan as it is finished.

  Once the chicken is all seared (note that it is still pink, not cooked all the way through, but has a lovely brown color on the outside), add salt and pepper to taste (approx 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper if you need a measurement). 

Top the chicken with the marinara sauce.  I prefer to make my own and keep it in the fridge, so use approximately 2-3 cups.  If you like a bottled or canned sauce, use a large bottle or can.  Just make sure the chicken gets covered. 
 You want to add some basil.  I love FRESH basil.  If you have never experienced the lovely smell and flavor that fresh basil will add to your life, you should.  A few years ago, I discovered a new product in the produce section called a living basil.  It is not a basil plant you can place in a pot, but you can put it in a cup of water and keep it on the counter for a few weeks, if you treat it right.  I love it!  Just walk by and rub a leaf, you'll be changed!  Anyway, you want to get some of that freshness on top of your sauce.  You can tear it or cut it.  If you want to get fancy and make a chiffonade, check out all the different instructional videos out there.  It's easy and I love how the lovely little ribbons look on my sauce...look below.  

I use approximately 1/4 c of leaves all stacked up.

See, it's almost like Christmas!

 Grate the cheeses.  You can buy pre-packaged if you want, but you will spend your money well if you buy a block and grate it yourself.   
 Afraid to try the Parmesan cheese?  Get a Microplane grater.  You'll never go back.  It really is a great value!  If you are afraid you won't use a large chunk of Parm before it goes bad, cut it up into smaller chunks, wrap it in plastic wrap, put it in a resealable bag, put it in the freezer, share it with a friend.  Just do me one favor and TRY it!  There is not comparison to fresh Parm!
 Layer 1/2 of the mozzarella and 1/2 of the Parm on top of the sauce.
 Layer on the croutons.  Use any kind you want.  Just cover the cheese in a single layer.
 Layer on the remaining mozzarella and Parm.  ***Note:  In many cases, a little extra cheese makes things even tastier.  I have learned, however, that this is not the case with this recipe.  More cheese makes a very hard, almost inedible top layer.  So, add extra cheese at your own risk.
 Bake at 350 for 30 mins.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then serve the bubbly cheesy crunchy goodness!

Parmesan Chicken Bake

1 1/2-2 # boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-2" chunks
1-2 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups marinara (or prepared spaghetti sauce)
1/4 c. fresh basil leaves
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded, divided
4 oz. Parmesan cheese, shredded, divided
5 oz. (3-4 c.) garlic croutons 

Brown chicken in batches over medium high heat, using olive oil.  Place in 9 x 13 baking dish, prepared with non-stick spray.  Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Cover chicken with marinara sauce.  Tear or cut basil leaves, sprinkle over top of marinara sauce.  Sprinkle 1/2 of mozzarella and Parmesan over top of marinara.  Next, place croutons on top of cheese in a single layer, covering cheeses.  Top croutons with remaining mozzarella, then Parmesan.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

 I truly made this based on what I had in the frig.   The fish can stand on its own, but I had some fresh fruit, so I made fresh fruit salsa.  I wanted to have some creamy risotto with it, but didn't feel like classic Parmesan risotto would do.  I thought, you know, some coconut and chocolate would be REALLY good with it, so I added some coconut milk and white chocolate instead of butter and Parmesan at the end of the cooking.  Wow!  I was super excited to find it was really good!  I knew it needed some texture, so I had toasted some macadamia nuts up earlier and sprinkled that on top with the bacon because EVERYTHING is better with salty bacon.  If you are up for something new, try out the risotto.  If you try only one thing from this menu, though, you MUST...I repeat MUST TRY the TILAPIA!

Coconut Tilapia
4 Tilapia Loins
salt and pepper
1/2 c. AP Flour
2 eggs
1/2 c coconut milk
1 c Panko bread crumbs
1 c sweetened coconut 
oil for frying

1.  Pat Tilapia loins dry, season with salt and pepper.
2.  Set up a dredging station:  Pan 1:  flour;  Pan 2:  beat eggs with coconut milk; Pan 3:  Panko mixed with coconut.  
3.  Heat pan on medium to medium high.  Add oil for a shallow fry.  You can toss a few bread crumbs or a little flour in to see if it is hot.  The oil will also ripple when it is hot.  When oil is hot, move to step 4.
4.  Dip each Tilapia loin in flour, coating well, shaking off excess.  Next, dip in coconut/egg mixture, then roll in Panko/coconut, pressing onto loin.  Immediately place in hot pan.  Repeat with amount of loins that will fit in your pan without crowding your pan.
5.  Cook on medium heat, allowing bread crumbs to brown without burning, approximately 2-3 minutes per side (my loins are about 3/4" thick).  Remove and drain on paper towels, repeating until all loins are cooked.

Fruit Salsa
1/2 c. diced strawberries
1/2 c. diced pineapple
1/4 c. diced mango (1 mango)
1/2 lime, juiced (approx 1 tsp)
1 Tbsp sugar
Just mix it all together and let it sit for at least 10 min.  Serve it over any kind of fish, really.  It would be super good with some red onion and some jalapeno as well!

White Chocolate Risotto
5 slices bacon, finely diced
1 medium shallot, finely diced 
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 Tbsp butter
3 cans (approx 6 cups) chicken stock **don't judge me**
1 1/2 c. ARBORIO  rice **do not substitute for anything else**
1/2 c. coconut milk
1/4 c. white chocolate chips
1/2 c. macadamia nuts, roughly chopped and toasted 

Cook bacon to crisp and remove from pan, reserving the bacon.  While bacon is cooking, put all the chicken stock in a pot and bring it to a hot temperature (you do not need to simmer it, just keep it hot).  Add butter to pan.  Over medium-low heat, saute shallot until tender (approx 2-3 minutes).  Do NOT burn the shallot!  Add the garlic and stir until fragrant.  Again, DO NOT burn the shallot or garlic.  BE PATIENT and stir, stir, stir!  Add the rice and stir to coat all the grains with oil/butter (approx 1-2 min).  Ladle in some broth, enough to cover the rice and stir the rice well.  Allow the rice to simmer and absorb all the liquid.  You will continue to add more liquid and stir the rice well, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid for approx. 20 min.  This will allow the rice to create a creamy texture.  This takes some practice, but is well worth the practice!  Check out several of the tutorials out there to see the technique.  It really isn't hard to do.  It's WAY BETTER than rice-a-roni, too!  When your risotto is where you want it to be, add the coconut milk, more or less to taste and the chocolate chips, stirring to incorporate.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve with the macadamia nuts and bacon on top or stirred in, whichever you prefer.  
Yield: 4-6 servings 

Chicken Tortilla Soup

 This recipe began with Eva Longoria's Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe (I know, who knew she cooked, right?).  I just didn't like how it looked, exactly, so I made some adjustments and this is how mine turned out.  Let me know what you think.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.  Here's the original recipe:

6 whole Roma tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
Salt & pepper to taste
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 bunch celery (1 1/2 cup diced), diced
1 pasilla (Poblano or Anaheim) chili pepper, diced (ribs & seeds removed for mild heat)
1 jalapeño pepper, diced (ribs & seeds removed for medium heat)
1/4 cup garlic (approx 6-8 cloves), chopped or grated
6 cups hearty chicken stock
1 TBS chili powder
1 TBS ground cumin seed
1 tsp paprika
1 bay leaf
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1-2 limes
Tortilla chips, avocado, jalapeños, lime wedges, and sour cream to garnish

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. On a non-stick pan, toss tomatoes with half the oil, salt (approx 1 tsp kosher), and black pepper (approx 1/2 tsp). Roast until edges are light brown and skins are starting to separate from flesh, approx 20 minutes.

2. While tomatoes are roasting, in a stockpot over medium heat, sauté onion, celery, and peppers in remaining oil. Stir frequently.
3. When veggies are soft, add chopped garlic and stir until fragrant.  Season with salt and pepper, cumin, chili powder,and paprika. Stir until fragrant (approx 1-2 mins).  Add chicken stock and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer 20 minutes.
4. When tomatoes are done, remove from oven (peel should be falling off), and add tomatoes to broth, scraping the pan drippings into the stock pot.  Allow to continue to simmer in the broth for the total of 20 min simmer time.
5.  When the broth has reduced slightly (after 20 min simmering), remove bay leaf and use an immersion blender to blend soup to smooth consistency.
6. Add chicken and simmer 10 minutes.
7. Stir chopped cilantro into soup and adjust for salt and pepper.  Squeeze 1-2 fresh limes over soup, adjusting to taste.  Serve with suggested garnish.
Don't worry about chopping super fine.  Just get them about the same size so their cooking time is the same.

I rarely chop garlic anymore.  Try a micro-plane grater.

Cook until soft.  I'd say translucent, but you get those peppers translucent.

I just eyeball my spices, but you can measure.

If you could smell this pot, you would smell all those spices.  Letting them cook like this wakes them up.
This is a roasted tomato.  Look at all those lovely juices!

I don't know about your family, but mine won't touch a soup that has large chunks of tomato floating in it (OK, I'm not a big fan, either).  I love all that flavor, though, so introduce that hot tub of deliciousness to an immersion blender.  They'll never know what was in there!  Don't Forget to take that Bay Leaf out, though!
Meet my immersion blender.  One of the best investments my  kitchen has ever seen.  Go find a tutorial.

After the immersion blender...need I say more?

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