Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Island Ranch Chicken with Coconut Rice

Island Ranch Chicken is a prettier name than what this recipe was called when my mom found it.  It was named "Carl's Chicken."

Who is Carl?

I have no idea, but I love his chicken!

A lovely woman who used to be my neighbor, gave this recipe its new, improved name. And I'm keeping that name.

My mom used to serve this with plain rice, but I love the sweet taste of coconut rice.  Do whatever suits your tastes!

Yields 4 servings

Island Ranch Chicken
3-4 chicken breasts, frozen*
1 small jar apricot jam
1 packet onion soup mix
1 cup prepared ranch dressing**

Mix the apricot jam, onion soup, and ranch dressing together in a bowl.  Place the chicken on the bottom of 9X13 casserole dish, and pour the sauce over top.  Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 1 hour.

This can be done in the crock pot, which is how my mom used to cook it.  I don't really like cooking chicken in the crock pot as it tends to always be overcooked. I get much juicier results when I use the oven.

Sweet Coconut Rice
1 cup long grain, brown rice
1 12 oz can coconut water (I think it's more like 11.8 oz)***
4.2 oz water****
Salt, to taste
1 TB butter
1 green onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced

Combine everything in a rice cooker and let it do its magic!

*You can use fresh chicken if you prefer, but do not add extra water if you do. Decrease cooking time to 45 minutes.

**I make ranch dressing using dry ranch dressing mix, mayonnaise, and milk. Combine the ingredients together before adding to the other sauce ingredients.

***You can use coconut water with pulp or without pulp. It's all about preference.

****To get the right amount of liquid, I pour the can of coconut water into a measuring up, and then add water to make 2 cups. You want 2 cups of liquid for 1 cup of rice.

One Dish Chicken, Potatoes, and Vegetables

This is my go-to meal for a busy day when I don't feel like trying something new or putting a lot of work into dinner.

The chicken is juicy and flavorful. The potatoes soak up all the butter, seasoning, and chicken fat and they are delicious. The green beans are buttery and have the perfect texture.  It is delicious and simple, and it only takes about 5 minutes to throw together!

You could do this in the crock pot, but I think the chicken turns out better when it's done in the oven.  I hate overcooked chicken. Chicken jerky, yuck!

Yields 4 servings

3-4 chicken breasts, frozen*
2-3 red skinned potatoes, washed
1 bag prepacked fresh green beans**
1 pkg Italian dressing seasoning packet, unprepared***
1 stick butter
Salt and pepper, to taste

Slice the red potatoes thinly, or dice them into chunks. I prefer to run them through a mandolin on my thickest setting, giving me about 1/4 inch slices.  Place the potatoes on the bottom of a 9X13 casserole dish.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a little bit of the Italian dressing packet.

Open the fresh green beans, sprinkle all of them on top of the potatoes.  Add salt, pepper, and a little more Italian dressing seasoning.

Place frozen chicken breasts on top of the green beans. Add more salt, pepper, and the rest of the Italian dressing seasoning packet. It may seem like a lot of seasoning, but remember that chicken is bland and potatoes are bland, and this is NOT too much seasoning. Trust me!

Cut the stick of butter into small cubes, and dot all over the pan.

Cover the pan with foil, and bake at 375 for 1 hour. Check to make sure chicken is cooked all the way through and the juices are clear before serving.

*You can also use fresh chicken breasts, and you do NOT need to add water. Simply decrease your cooking time by about 15 minutes.

**Other vegetables I have tried: broccoli, carrots. Any root vegetable will do!

***You can use a ranch dressing packet instead of Italian. It's still delicious, but Italian dressing adds a little more zest and interest to the flavors.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sweet Pork, Lime Rice, and Creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing

Cafe Rio is my favorite restaurant, ever.

When I was in high school, my best friend and I would go there weekly.  Probably more than weekly.  I remember having a free meal every other month. (You get a free meal after purchasing 10 meals.) After I got married, I stopped going as much, and then we decided to get crazy and move across the country.

The nearest Cafe Rio is approximately 777 miles away.

That's an interesting coincidence... Since that's also my anniversary. Huh... Must be a sign or something.

A few years ago, before I moved across the country, I found an assortment of Cafe Rio copycat recipes.  I tried and played with each one, making my own adjustments, and below is what I have come up with.

Spoiler alert: I have tasted official Cafe Rio Creamy Tomatillo Dressing side by side with my recipe below and I could NOT tell a difference. Take that!

It is easiest if you split the work into two days:

Day 1:
Cook the pork on low (then stick it in the fridge overnight/during the next day before you're ready to prepare dinner - you can skim the grease/fat that hardens and rises to the top this way).
Make the dressing and let it sit in the fridge, getting "happy" (the dressing flavors intensify and the dressing itself gets thicker if you let it sit a while).
Make the pico de gallo and let it sit in the fridge, getting "happy" (flavors will intensify).

Day 2:
Heat up/finish cooking the pork in the yummy sauce while you...
Make the rice.

It's slightly less work this way.

Well, it's the same amount of work, but less work each day, and day 2 is much faster (dinner ready in 45 minutes is fine by me!).

I've included recipes for sweet pork, cilantro lime dressing, lime rice, and pico de gallo. I don't like my Cafe Rio salad with beans, and I'm too lazy to make the tortilla strips that go on top.

My point is, prepare what you want. Make the salad your own! Get crazy!

Cilantro Lime Dressing:
1 c mayonnaise
1/2 c milk
1 lime, zest and juice
1 packet of ranch dressing mix
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c cilantro, roughly chopped (most of the time I use 1/2 or more of an entire bundle)
1/4 c green salsa (La Costena or Herdez brand)
Chili Lime Cholula, to taste (original Cholula will work as well)

Mix all ingredients in the blender, put in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours.

Lime Rice:
1 cup long-grain, brown rice
1 3/4 cups water
2 tsp chicken bouillon
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 cup green salsa (use leftovers from the dressing recipe!)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lime, zest and juice
1 tsp butter

Combine everything in a rice cooker and let it do its magic. (You can use white rice instead of brown. You also can substitute straight up chicken broth or chicken stock instead of the bouillon and water.)

Pico De Gallo
1 tomato, diced
a few sprigs (2-3) cilantro, chopped
1 green onion, diced
sprinkle of salt, to taste

Basically this is a fresh, chunky salsa.  Combine tomato, cilantro, onion and sprinkle of salt.  Let sit in the fridge until the flavors get happy.

Sweet Pork
2 pounds pork (I use pork butt roast)
2 cans Coke, divided (You could also use Dr. Pepper. If you use Root Beer, it will not taste like Cafe Rio's.)
1 cup brown sugar, divided
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1/4 c green salsa (same as in the dressing and rice!)
1 (10 oz) can red enchilada sauce (I like Old El Paso medium heat)

Put pork, 1 can of Coke, garlic salt and 1/4 cup brown sugar in crock pot on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 8-10 hours. When done, shred pork. Mix 1 can of Coke, green salsa, enchilada sauce, and 3/4 cup brown sugar in a bowl, then pour over shredded pork in crock pot and cook on high for 45 minutes, or on low for 2 hours.

Other items needed:
Shredded romaine lettuce
Sour cream
Extra sprigs of cilantro
Fresh lime wedges

When everything is done, build your salad, or burrito, or taco. Whatever!

I like to put a tortilla on my plate, followed by a a small scoop of rice, a little bit of shredded pork, then some shredded lettuce. Add sour cream, pico, cilantro, and a lime wedge. Pour on as much dressing as suits your fancy.

Then sit back, put your feet up, and relax, because this meal is a ton of work!

Personally I'd rather spend $10 and go to Cafe Rio.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mexican Tortilla Soup

1 can whole kernal corn, or 2-3 fresh ears of corn
4 cups vegetable broth
1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 10 oz can diced tomatoes and green chilis,
2 corn tortillas, sliced into 1/4'' strips
1 fresh avocado
fresh lime
sour cream

Mix all ingredients except tortillas into a large saucepan or stock pot. Simmer over medium heat until heated through.

Fry the tortillas and serve on top with avocado, lime and sour cream.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Favorite Lasagna

This recipe is a combination of Chicken Parmigiana by Pioneer Woman, and Lasagna Roll Ups by Favorite Family Recipes.  Boy oh boy is it perfect!  It's a bit of work, but I promise it's worth it.  Say goodbye to nasty jarred or canned spaghetti sauce!

When I made this today, I prepared it before church and placed it in the refrigerator. When we got home all I had to do was bake and serve!  You could easily assemble it the day before, refrigerate overnight and cook it the next day.

You could also make a meatless version by omitting the ground beef and associated cooking step.

Ingredients for the sauce:
-1 lb ground beef (or sausage, or turkey, or whatever meat you think would taste good)
-salt and pepper to taste
-1 TB olive oil
-1 TB butter
(If you are using a meat that is NOT lean, omit the oil and only use butter, or you will have a TON of grease to remove. The butter is for delicious flavor.)
-1 whole medium onion, diced (or grated)
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-3/4 cup chicken broth
-3 cans crushed tomatoes
-2 TB sugar
-1 TB dried parsley (or about 1/4 cup fresh, chopped)

Ingredients for the filling:
-2 cups cottage cheese
-1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
-1 egg, lightly beaten
-1 tsp dried parsley (or 1 TB fresh, chopped)
-1/2 tsp onion powder
-1/4 tsp garlic powder
-salt and pepper to taste

-Lasagna noodles, cooked, drained and rinsed (rinsed so they don't stick together and tear apart. :( Also, I like to break my noodles in half before cooking, so they're even more less likely to tear and stick together.)
-2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (or you could use more fresh Parmesan, I just like how gooey and melty the mozz is.)

Preparation Instructions:
Heat olive oil and butter together in a large skillet over medium heat. Season one side of ground beef with salt and pepper. When butter is melted and oil/butter mixture is hot, place the ground beef, seasoned side down in the pan.  While cooking, season the other side of ground beef with salt and pepper.  Cook on first side for 2-3 minutes until you get a nice crust.  Then you can either turn over the ground beef, or start breaking it up, or a combination of both.  Cook until it is no longer pink.  Drain grease and return to heat.

Add onions and garlic and cook until the onions are no longer raw. Pour in chicken broth and scrape the bottom of the pan, getting all the bits off the bottom. Cook for 1 minute.

Pour in crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. Add sugar and more salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I would recommend covering it during this cooking time, since it tends to bubble all over.) Add chopped parsley and give sauce a good stir and a taste. Add more salt and pepper, if needed.

During the 20 minute simmering time, cook the lasagna noodles to al dente. Drain and rinse.

In a bowl combine all filling ingredients.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.  Cover with lasagna noodles. Spread a thin layer of filling over the noodles.  Repeat until you run out of each. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes.  Remove from oven and top with mozzarella cheese. Return to oven and cook until cheese is melted and bubbly.


To make ahead and freeze: Assemble lasagna in a 9x13 pan that is lined with foil, with plenty extra foil on the sides.  Once assembled, cover with foil and freeze until firm.  Once firm, remove from the pan, and wrap with extra foil.  Freeze for up to two months.

To prepare after frozen: Remove lasagna from freezer and remove foil. Place in a lightly greased 9x13 baking dish. Cover and thaw in refrigerator for 24 hours. Bake in oven at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove cover and top with shredded mozzarella cheese. Return to oven and cook until cheese has melted.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


My breakfasts need to be fast. Super fast.  I get sick of eating cereal all the time.  Also, it's waaaay too tempting to eat the sugary (aka dessert) cereals when I get bored of the healthy ones.  So, this week I decided to make some granola.

It's so easy!

4 cups oats
1/2 cup nuts (I used almonds, and put them in the food processor until they were chopped to the size I wanted)
1/4 cup flax seed
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
a handful or two of crasins
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon vanilla

Combine oats, nuts, flax seed, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and crasins in a large bowl.

Place canola oil, honey and vanilla in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for one minute, then pour into oat mixture.  Mix until well combined.  Spread over a large baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and leave on pan until the granola hardens.  Break it up and store it in a large air-tight container.

I like to eat it for breakfast with some vanilla honey yogurt and frozen fruit.  You could also eat it with milk, or plain, or however you want!  It is delicious!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Really, Really Good Soup (Cauliflower and Cheese)

I'm not gonna lie, cauliflower, when cooked, smells horrible.  If you can get past the smell, you should make this dish because it is wonderful (and low carb!).

If you like potato soup, you should make this dish because it is wonderful (and low carb!).

When I go to Zupas, I have to order the Wisconsin Cauliflower soup.  I just have to.  It's too perfect to pass up.  It's too good to risk trying another soup I may not like.  This soup, is like that soup, except made in the crock pot.  If you're in a hurry, you can cook a non-crock pot version.  Which is good as well.  I just like to make things and walk away, so crock pot cooking works for me!

The Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 large onion, diced very fine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can chicken broth (if you want to go vegetarian, use vegetable broth)
1 head cauliflower, cut into floretes
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon mustard
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded pepperjack cheese

The Directions:
Put the cauliflower pieces, onion, salt and butter in the crock pot and cook on low for 4-5 hours, or on high for 2-3.  Once the cauliflower is nice and soft, pour the cauliflower mixture into a blender (with the center piece removed from the lid) and puree until you get the consistency you want.  You may have to do this in two or three batches.  Return cauliflower mixture to crock pot and add milk, mustard and cheeses.  You may also want to add more salt and some pepper at this point. Give it a taste!  Turn the crock pot to high and heat through for 30 mins to an hour, stirring occassionally.

My husband, who thinks he hates onions, loves this soup.
My sister in law, who hates a lot of things, likes this soup.  (I didn't tell her what was in it until after she gave her verdict.)

Picky eater approved!  Try it!