Entries from blogs tagged with “flying fork”

Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese: This is not your mama’s sandwich

No one in my house is a big fan of sandwiches. Traditional sandwiches are boring, cold, sometimes slimy, and reminiscent of grade school lunch boxes. So when I say we're having sandwiches for dinner, you better believe it's not gonna be two slices of white bread with cheap cold cuts and American cheese slapped in the middle. When I do sandwiches I mean serious business, and they're every bit as exciting and mouthwatering as a full-fledged dinner party meal.

Usually, I let my cravings guide me. I love a good grilled cheese sandwich and am prone to doctor even those up with fancier cheeses, roasted peppers, spinach, bacon, you name it. Recently, I had a craving for spicy chicken — namely, Buffalo chicken. But I didn't want to fry anything, and baked chicken sounded boring, so I endeavored to gussy up a grilled cheese with a bit of spicy chicken and some other choice ingredients. The result is the stuff of really good dreams.

I used good bread, bacon, avocado, good cheese and a smear of Buffalo cream cheese to create a spicy chicken grilled cheese you'll want to write home about.

Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese

Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese by Richard Gwin

Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese

2 boneless chicken breasts
8 slices good bread (I used a garlic ciabatta, sliced vertically)
4 oz. cream cheese
3 teaspoons Frank's RedHot Buffalo wing sauce, divided
4 strips of bacon
1 avocado
4 slices Swiss cheese
4 slices Colby cheese

  1. Soften the cream cheese and mix with 1 teaspoon Frank's RedHot sauce. Set aside.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350 and bake the chicken breasts on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and drizzle the remaining Frank's RedHot over them before putting them in the oven for about 20 minutes, until cooked through.

  3. When the chicken is cooked, dice it up into small pieces.

  4. Heat a tablespoon of butter in a skillet (I use cast iron) and begin assembly of the sandwiches.

  5. On one piece of bread, lay one piece of cheese. Layer on a few pieces of chicken, some diced avocado, a piece of bacon (break it in half to make it fit nicely) and another piece of cheese. Smear the top piece of bread with the Buffalo cream cheese.

  6. Grill over medium-low heat (so as to melt the cheese but not burn the bread) on each side for about two minutes, until golden brown. I used the back of a spatula to "smash" the sandwich, sort of panini-style.

  7. This is not health food, but it's full of richness, texture and flavor. Spicy, creamy, bacon-y, what more could you want in a sandwich? It hardly qualifies for that title. I'd say it's more of a "toasted dream."

Reply 1 comment from Bill McGovern

Life’s a peach, so make some shortcakes

Who said all shortcake had to be topped with strawberries?

It turns out, my kids aren't huge fans of strawberries — something to do with the seeds. This made me sad, because I have fond memories of strawberry shortcake all summer long when I was growing up. Often, it was my job to make the shortcake, something I embraced fully because I liked to use extra sugar and butter in the batter, and if I were given the chance to make it, no one was the wiser.

Back then, shortcake was made in a round cake pan with Bisquick — and I still love that version if I'm honest. But usually these days I whip up a biscuity dough because it's just as fast and I don't always have baking mix in the cabinet that isn't two years old.

Shortcake is great because it uses ingredients that are pantry staples. No fussiness involved, and it's fast and easy.

For my Farm Fresh Challenge I selected the "cook" challenge, and I've been scouring Hy-Vee for the most local produce they can offer. This week, there were some lovely peaches, and I could not resist the siren song of a juicy peach as a snack or dessert.

Why not serve them, along with a few blueberries, atop my shortcake? I mean, with a dash of whipped cream, it's summer on a plate. And even my kids will be happy because there's not a seed in sight.

Peach Shortcake

Peach Shortcake by John Young

Peach Shortcake


For the shortcake

2 cups flour
1 heaping tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar (I still like my shortcakes sweeter than most — you can reduce this if you desire)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shortening
1 cup milk


Preheat your oven to 450 F.

Combine the dry ingredients, cut in the butter and shortening, and then add the milk. Mix until it comes together, but don't overmix. This is a biscuit dough.

Drop onto a cookie sheet in fist-sized balls. I really just use my hands for this. Brush tops with melted butter.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes until the tops brown.

Makes about 6 shortcakes.

For the toppings

Peel and slice four or five peaches. Mix in 1/2 cup blueberries. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, stir and refrigerate for half an hour (at least) to get everything nice and juicy together.

Whipped cream

1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon sugar

Combine and beat until soft peaks form.


Local salsa and a simple margarita add up to a quick patio party

So, I'm taking the Farm Fresh Challenge. Are you? This nifty program is designed to encourage us all to shop for local foods and eat a little bit more healthy (and locally) than maybe we were before.

It's not always easy for me to do. I'll admit to finding it hard to make it to the farmers market sometimes, and often it's tough to know where my produce came from when I buy it at the store. This little program is designed to help me with that, and to make me be a little more vigilant for at least a month — hopefully longer.

I'm doing the "cook" challenge, obviously. I like to create new recipes and try new things, so it was right up my alley to challenge myself to use local ingredients in my regular cooking and see how I do.

My go-to snack is chips and salsa. I don't know how many different salsa recipes I have created and how many have been chronicled in this space, but that's the joy of salsa: it can take on many shapes, forms and flavors.

My go-to salsa, admittedly, doesn't use a single fresh ingredient. I always sort of liked it for that because it keeps for a long time in my refrigerator and can be thrown together in about 10 seconds. But dang if I didn't figure out a way to make it with fresh tomatoes and jalapenos, and I might have ruined myself for my simple canned-tomato version forever.

This is my favorite salsa because it's "restaurant style" in that it's runny with no chunks or frills. There are no mangoes, black beans, chunks of pineapple, or bits of corn in this salsa. It is just good, runny, red salsa, and I crave it almost daily.

Restaurant-Style Salsa and a Three-Ingredient Margarita

Restaurant-Style Salsa and a Three-Ingredient Margarita by John Young

Restaurant-Style Salsa


5 or 6 medium-sized ripe local tomatoes
1 fresh (local) jalapeno
Juice of 1 lime
Handful of cilantro leaves
1/3 small red onion
1 tablespoon of sugar (I use Splenda)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
Dash of black pepper
1 teaspoon juice from a jar of pickled jalapenos (more or less to taste for heat)


First, core the tomatoes. I happen to own a nifty coring device that I use for apples that also works well for this, but you can also just dig the cores out with a paring knife.

Bring a pot of water to boil and blanch the tomatoes for about 3 minutes, until the skins loosen. Drain the water off and run under cold water (or even add an ice bath) to stop the cooking process. Pull the skins off the tomatoes. They should slide right off with no trouble at all.

I just dump all the ingredients into a tall Tupperware container and give it a thorough blend with my stick blender, but you could put it all into a traditional blender if that's what you have. Leave no chunks! This is supposed to be runny!

Serve with GOOD tortilla chips. A salsa is only as good as the chip you serve it on.

And to go with any good runny salsa, you have to have a margarita, right? This one uses only three ingredients and even I cannot screw it up. It's not local, but it's delicious, and it's the perfect complement to a good restaurant-style salsa.

Three-Ingredient Margarita


1 large can frozen limeade
24 oz yellow beer (like Bud Light or Coors, etc)
1 cup tequila


Stir it all together and serve over ice.

Look! It's a party!

Reply 1 comment from Erin McDaniel

Cooling off with a cucumber salad, cocktail

If you don't have a garden, you probably know someone who does who's got cucumbers coming out of their ears. I promise. 'Tis the season.

I have a friend or co worker hand me a big beauty almost every day. What to do with all these cukes? I mean, dice them on a salad, sure. Dip them in ranch dressing? I'm not above it. Make pickles? If you have the time. But eventually you need to take it to the next cuke-y level to use up the bounty that is this time of year.

I happened upon this cucumber salad recipe in a fit of "Oh my gosh, all these vegetables!" and I have had it several times a week since. You likely also have some bell peppers floating around, if you have a garden hook-up, so this helps with that situation as well.

The unlikely pairing of coconut oil and balsamic is what sets this apart from the myriad other cucumber/vinegar salad recipes. It sounds odd, I know, but please trust me on this. You could sub olive oil, but the result would be drastically different and much less exciting.

To go with your fresh cuke salad, you're going to need a cold and refreshing beverage. And what is more refreshing than a cucumber? That's right, in a drink. It's also a good use of the rest of the lime that you cut open and didn't use all of in your salad. We are being resourceful here, people.

Coconutty Cucumber Salad

Coconutty Cucumber Salad by John Young

Coconutty Cucumber Salad


1 medium cucumber, sliced paper thin
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, diced into small pieces
1 heaping tablespoon coconut oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 heaping tablespoon Splenda (or sugar, if you so prefer)
1 squeeze of lime juice
Lime zest to taste
Healthy pinch of salt
Dash of black pepper


Stir together the oil, vinegar, spices and lime juice. Pour over the sliced cucumber and diced pepper and stir around thoroughly to make sure each slice of cucumber has touched the dressing. Top with a bit of lime zest. Serve cold. Keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

Serves 2 large portions or several small side portions.

Cucumber Gin Fizz

Cucumber Gin Fizz by John Young

Cucumber Gin Fizz


3 cucumber "ribbons"
Juice of one lime
1 egg white
2 ounces gin
1 ounce cold club soda
1 ounce simple syrup


To make cucumber ribbons, use a vegetable peeler to remove the green rind from the cucumber and then slice with the peeler from end to end to create long sheets of cucumber. You only need two or three for this, so the rest of the cuke will go into your salad.

In a martini shaker, combine the ingredients and shake vigorously. You can either pour over ice or into a very cold glass. Be sure to shake it all out even when it seems like it's done, because that is where you get the glorious froth from the egg white, which is key to a good fizz.

Be refreshed!


Roasted squash and salmon: summer simplicity

I wrote last week about liking to cook simple things in the summer that aren't fussy, with ingredients that are easily accessible from the kitchen or garden. I also like to avoid turning on the oven, but when the heat index is over 100 degrees, sometimes indoor cooking is a necessity.

When that happens, I like to make things that will cook quickly. No roasting large pieces of meat for hours. I want to cook and move on.

Cooking things with few ingredients is another goal for fresh summer cooking. A vegetable or two, a protein, maybe some fresh herbs, and you can have a delicious, nutritious meal without dirtying every dish in the house and spending a lot of time and money on long ingredient lists.

I try to eat salmon or some fish at least once a week, even though my kids will have nothing to do with it. That means I enjoy eating vegetables that they don't like and do a full on "Mama Meal" for myself.

This week's Mama Meal was panko-encrusted salmon with garden vegetables. I love this because I do it all on one cookie sheet and there's so little mess. It makes a nice presentation, even if it's just for me. Sometimes I need to look at something on my plate other than a salad or a kid meal of chicken nuggets and green beans, you know?

Panko-Encrusted Salmon with Summer Vegetables

Panko-Encrusted Salmon with Summer Vegetables by Nick Krug

Panko-encrusted Salmon with Summer Vegetables


1 full salmon fillet (fresh is best but frozen will do)
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Cracked black pepper
1 small summer squash, sliced thinly and quartered
1 Roma tomato, diced
2 tablespoons diced serrano pepper
Olive oil


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Drizzle a little olive oil on a large cookie sheet and lay the salmon fillet on, skin side down.

Sprinkle with kosher salt.

In a small bowl, mix together the panko and the dried herbs and little more salt and pepper.

Sprinkle the panko liberally over the fish.

Arrange the squash around the salmon, and sprinkle the diced tomato and peppers over the top of everything. Salt and pepper the veggies, and drizzle everything with olive oil.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the fish is flaky. A thinner cut of salmon will need less cooking time.

Squeeze the lemon over the top and serve hot.

Serves three generous portions


Pork Crostini with corn relish fancy fare for summer

In the summer, when food revolves around salads and grills and fresh vegetables, I often forgo things that seem fancy or fussy. We eat whole foods that don't require much in the way of chopping, or even turning on the oven.

But I am also interested in using up every shred of food in my house. I am never so satisfied as when I have cooked something and eaten it in three delicious ways over the course of a week or more.

Recently, I cooked a couple of pork shoulders for BBQ pork to serve at a party. The leftovers were divided into containers: one for the fridge for immediate snacking, and one for the freezer for future happiness.

That happiness came in the form of a need for an appetizer to serve a few friends with wine on a weeknight. Looking around my kitchen, and not wanting to go to the store for extra ingredients, a plan was born. It may have been one of the best things I ever invented, and I only used leftovers and bits of things I had on hand.

An ear of corn, some pickled jalapenos, a day-old loaf of ciabatta, and a dash of creme fraiche and I was on my way to my happy place.

Barbecue Pork Crostini with Sweet Corn Relish

Barbecue Pork Crostini with Sweet Corn Relish by John Young

BBQ Pork Crostini with Sweet Corn Relish


1 1/2 cups barbecue pulled pork

For the relish:

1 ear corn
1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapenos
1 teaspoon juice from the jar of jalapenos
2 teaspoons minced onion
Pinch of salt
Dash of finely ground black pepper

For the creme fraiche:

(For full disclosure: I had some store bought in my refrigerator that I used, but it's very simple to make.)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons buttermilk

Stir well or shake up in a canning jar. Leave it partially covered for 8 to 12 hours, until it thickens to the consistency you like.

(But again, if you are like me, there is usually a store-bought container on hand.)

For the crostini:

1/2 loaf of day-old ciabatta or other porous, soft bread

1/2 cup olive oil


Preheat your oven to 400 F. Clean your corn and either boil or steam it.

Slice the ciabatta vertically into about 5 slices, and then halve the slices so you have 10 pieces.

Brush each piece top and bottom with olive oil.

Lay them on a cookie sheet and bake for about 5 minutes, until they begin to look golden brown and a little crispy.

Meanwhile, cut the corn from the cob and chop the pickled jalapeno and onion. Stir in the salt and jalapeno juice.

Then top each crostini with 2 tablespoons of hot pulled pork, a sprinkle of relish, and a drizzle of creme fraiche.

This took no time to put together, since I had the pork thawed and ready to use. Simple, lots of flavor, and a hearty appetizer to serve even in lieu of a meal. This, my friends, is about as "fancy" as summer food gets at my house.


Fast frittata makes great breakfast for dinner

A frittata is basically a crustless quiche. I make them often because it's a quick way to make a nice breakfast for several people, or to make a dinner out of really inexpensive ingredients.

They are great for "refrigerator cleanout" because you can add whatever veggies or meat or cheese you have and almost always come out with a really nice (and pretty) final product.

There are a few things about frittatas I have learned that make them almost fool-proof. First, you have to add milk. Like any good omelet, dairy is an essential component to keep it from being flat, dry and rubbery. For every six eggs in a frittata, there should be a half cup of milk. No more, no less. The more fat in the milk, the better the frittata, but 2 percent yields a fine result.

Second, you have to use the right pan. I only do frittatas in cast-iron. They retain enough heat to help cook the eggs through without burning the edges and leaving the middle raw. They also withstand the oven nicely.

And lastly: seasoning. You need to season your egg mixture before it gets to the heat. Be sure to temper your salt with consideration to the meats and cheeses you're using. Sausage and Parmesan are both rather salty on their own, so you won't need as much if those are main ingredients, as they were in my frittata from this week. But it is important to stir the salt, garlic, pepper, basil, whatever it is you're using into the egg mixture before you pour it into the pan.

I made this dish as a "BFD" or "Breakfast for Dinner" recently. Served with some scones and muffins and fruit, you have all the components of a healthy and delicious dinner and the cost and time spent are both delightfully low.

Sausage, Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Frittata

Sausage, Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Frittata by John Young

Sausage, Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Frittata


1 cup cooked ground breakfast sausage
1/4 cup diced roasted red peppers
2/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup milk
12 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
Hearty dash of cracked black pepper
Handful green onions, white and green parts, chopped


Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Brown the sausage in a large cast iron skillet.

Meanwhile, crack all 12 eggs into a mixing bowl and add the milk. Whisk to break the eggs but don't overmix it.

Add the cheese and vegetables and salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Remove the sausage from the skillet and add to the egg mixture, leaving the grease from the sausage in the pan.

Add the egg mixture and cook on the stovetop over medium heat until the sides begin to firm up and get bubbly, about 5 or 6 minutes. Then transfer to the oven and bake until the center is firm and the top is beginning to brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Garnish with some extra green onions and a little more goat cheese and serve piping hot.

Serves 8 generous portions.


Sweeten your ice cream with fresh sweet corn

Every time I tell someone I'm making sweet corn ice cream, I'm met with suspicious stares or, on occasion, downright anger. "Why," they cry, "would you ruin perfectly good homemade ice cream by putting a vegetable in it?"

My 6-year-old son nearly cried when I first asked him to try it.

I promise everyone that this is a standard dessert in Mexico, and I daresay I've improved on that version because I tend to be averse to actual frozen kernels of corn in my cream, so I've found a way to get the milky sweetness and light corn flavor into my ice cream without sacrificing a pure and velvety texture.

My 6-year-old is now a really big fan, by the way.

You can dress up sweet corn ice cream with blackberries or raspberries or nuts or even chocolate, but I tend to prefer it unadulterated so I can really identify that corny deliciousness. It's combining my two favorite summer things — garden-fresh corn and homemade ice cream — into a beautiful duet.

Sweet Corn Ice Cream

Sweet Corn Ice Cream by John Young

Sweet Corn Ice Cream

3 ears sweet corn, cleaned
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half and half
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cut the raw corn from the cob and combine with a cup of milk. Blend thoroughly (I use a stick blender for this) and then push the liquid through a mesh strainer.

In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolk, and then add the rest of the ingredients and beat until the mixture gets a little bit thick.

It's best if you can chill this for a few hours or overnight, but if you are like me and you don't have time for that kind of planning ahead, just go ahead and put it in your ice cream freezer and eat it as soon as it's frozen.

I always top mine with caramel corn, but berries or chocolate sauce are good too.


Summer’s pie: Strawberries and cream

Summer, for me, is pools, hot dogs, garden salsa and strawberry pie. Not necessarily in that order.

I am not much of a dessert eater, but I have never in my life turned down a piece of strawberry pie, no matter what version was put in front of me. It is one of the few sweet treats that I crave, salivate for, and think about. The rest of my time is spent thinking about hamburgers, and mustard.

I also happen to love all things creamy or custard, so I set out this summer to create a strawberries and cream pie that would satisfy all my sweet tooth in one fell swoop. I believe I've succeeded. Please excuse me while I hide in the closet with my pie and eat the whole thing, and no I will not share.

In all truth, this pie could be done with any berry, but the giant, juicy strawberries of this time of year just cry out to me to perch atop my creamy filling and crust.

Strawberries and Cream Pie

Strawberries and Cream Pie by John Young

Strawberries and Cream Pie


1 pie crust (homemade or store bought)
2 blocks cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 powdered sugar
2 cups sliced or halved strawberries

For the chocolate drizzle
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons shortening


Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Beat the two eggs in a small bowl together, and then stir in softened cream cheese, sour cream, powdered sugar, lemon juice and vanilla. Set aside.

Lay your crust into the pie plate, and pinch the edges. Fold the cream cheese mixture into the crust, smooth the top, and bake for 20 minutes, or until it begins to brown just slightly.

Cool, and then top with fresh berries, and cover with chocolate drizzle.

To make the drizzle, just warm the chocolate chips and shortening in a small saucepan over medium heat, watching carefully not to scorch.

This pie is gorgeous, slices perfectly, and really looks like summer: colorful, fresh and decadent.


Chicken Divan: a dinner blast from the past

Your mother probably made this in the '70s, and it might have been a dish she considered upscale enough to don her hostess dress and make for company. Chicken divan is a casserole that over the years has taken on many forms (most of which are unacceptable bastardizations that include cans of soup in the ingredient list), but true chicken divan is creamy and delicious because of a mornay sauce, and in my case, the addition of extra cheese "just for fun."

Mornay is simply bechamel (or "white sauce") with cheese melted in. For this recipe, I use Gruyere in the mornay and cheddar as the "extra" cheese I stir into the dish.

I will admit to one "cheat" in this recipe. I use Minute Rice, which I never use otherwise, but find that it cooks in the proper time so as not to dry out the dish.

I'm not sure I'd serve this to company, and I certainly won't be wearing a hostess dress anytime soon, but who am I kidding — my friends are happy to get a hot meal even if it's just chicken casserole, so maybe I would make it for them. It's pretty darn delicious, and even the "fancy" (non-soup) version is fairly quick to make.

Chicken divan

Chicken divan by Mike Yoder

Chicken Divan
2 cups Minute Rice
2 cups Gruyere mornay (recipe below)
1 bag frozen broccoli florets (you can use fresh but I find the frozen ones cook more nicely in the dish and fresh come out still a bit hard)
1 cup cheddar cheese, cubed
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
3 large chicken breasts, cooked and diced
1 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

For the mornay sauce:
2 cups heavy cream (or half and half)
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon cooking sherry
Healthy pinch of salt
Dash of white pepper

Melt the butter over medium heat in a saucepan and add the flour. Whisk together to make a bubbly paste. Slowly add the cream (continue whisking constantly), and then add in the cheese and sherry once the cream mixture begins to thicken. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in a large casserole dish, layer in the rice, chicken, cubed cheddar and broccoli. Pour the mornay over everything, stir in the Dijon, and pour chicken stock over the top so there is enough moisture to cook the rice.

Bake in a 350 F oven for 40 minutes, or until the rice is fluffy and cooked through.


Roasted vegetable pizza a quick dinner solution

Pizza is a fallback dinner at our house. When the cupboard is bare, I can still almost always pull together some sort of pizza-like concoction that pleases everyone and also uses up the random leftovers languishing in my refrigerator.

Pizza, in my mind, doesn't always have to have red sauce and pepperoni. It is basically just a crust that is a vehicle for all manner of toppings and sauces. I had some tomatoes and a few spears of asparagus in my refrigerator, and my friend Lydia had gifted me some shiitake mushrooms her husband grew at his farm, so I wanted to find a way to use all of that up in one delicious meal.

Those veggies didn't sound right with a red sauce and I didn't have any cream cheese lying around for a white sauce, so I grabbed a container of hummus and thought "OK, why not?" It was an excellent choice. Both easy and delicious.

If you haven't had shaved asparagus, you need to try it immediately. Those ribbons get toasty and crisp and bring a burst of freshness to every bite of the pizza. The mushrooms added a "meaty" quality, and roasted tomatoes are like nature's candy. This is lovely combination of textures and flavors and a simple meal that can be put together in just a few minutes, if you have the dough made in advance.

Shaved Asparagus and Roasted Vegetable Pizza

Shaved Asparagus and Roasted Vegetable Pizza by John Young

Shaved Asparagus and Roasted Vegetable Pizza

For the crust
Makes two crusts
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons yeast
2 tablespoons sugar or honey
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cups flour

For the toppings

1 cup hummus
4 stalks of asparagus, shaved
Handful of grape tomatoes, sliced in half
2 large shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
Pinch of kosher salt
Drizzle of olive oil
2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese or feta

Put the water in the mixing bowl with the yeast and let it proof for a few minutes. Then add the sugar, salt and oil and mix together. Finally, add in the flour and mix. I use the KitchenAid mixer and the dough hook, but it can easily be done by hand.

Remove the dough from the bowl, spread olive oil all around, and then put it back in to rise, covered, for at least an hour.

Prepare your toppings. To shave the asparagus, I first cut off the tips. Then I just lay the stalk on the cutting board and hold the end with one hand while I run a vegetable peeler over it to shave off thin strips. Turn it over and shave the other side down.

When you are ready to make your pizza, preheat your oven to 475 F. Roll out half the dough into one round crust (I like it paper thin) and put it onto an oiled pizza pan. Give it several good pokes with a fork and par bake it for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pop the vegetables into a casserole dish or cast-iron skillet and put them in the oven to begin cooking while you bake the crust. I put the asparagus tips and the shavings in.

Remove the crust from the oven, cover it with the hummus, top with vegetables. Bake again for about 6 minutes at very high heat.

When it's done, pull it from the oven and sprinkle with a little goat cheese or feta.


Hasselback potatoes not much hassle at all

Steak night at our house is a big affair and we don't like to mess around. We want all the sides and fixin's, and we like to be a little inventive about it so we don't get bored. Everyone loves a good baked potato, but I'm always looking for ways to make it better, more exciting, and different.

Hasselback potatoes are fun because they create a lot of surface area for crispy goodness and they also happen to look fancy on a plate. For this particular meal, I riffed on them a little. A traditional hasselback would have lots of thin, horizontal slices along the entire "back" of the potato. But for this, I wanted larger spaces because I was going to fill them with compound butter.

So for an average sized potato, I cut about five or six "wedges" out of the top. I wanted to create deep and wide enough spaces to fill with a gooey substance that would make the whole potato infused with buttery goodness.

After cooking, I topped them with a little more of the butter mixture. Crispy, buttery, herby, these are our new favorite thing.

Compound butter-infused Baked Potatoes

Compound butter-infused Baked Potatoes by John Young

Compound butter-infused Baked Potatoes

6 average sized baking potatoes
1 stick of butter, softened
1/2 cup mayo
2 heaping tablespoons minced fresh chives
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
generous pinch of salt

In advance, if possible, mix up your butter mixture. Mix everything together and put in the fridge or freezer. You don't want it frozen solid, but firm is good.

Cut thin "wedges" out of the top of the potato, going as deep into the potato as you can without cutting through it. (I saved these and made them into french fries, which were amazing).

With a knife, insert the mayo/butter mixture well into each slice, and don't worry if it gets all over the top of the potato, that will only add to crunchy and delicious skin.

Bake the potatoes at 425 for about 45 minutes. They need to bake inside a glass baking dish so it catches the butter as it melts. Your potatoes will then reap the benefit of the butter that spills out as well as the butter that stays inside. And you won't have a smoky mess all over your stove's heating element.

I slathered a little more of the butter/mayo mix on top before serving. No, this is not particularly healthy food. It's a treat, and it's special. And we only have steak night once a month.


Roasted corn and jalapeno salsa for a taste of summer

Summer is almost here, and I'm starting to seek out the tastes and colors of warm weather.

Winter food tends to be full of browns and oranges, and while those things represent deliciousness like roast beef and pumpkin pie, as summer approaches I start seeking colorful and vibrant food — food that is joyful and spicy and fresh and crisp.

In a fit of desire for something fresh with kick, I made up a little corn salsa, which I have been eating for lunch every day with a few chips and an avocado on the side. I considered putting the avocado in the salsa, but then it would give the salsa a shorter shelf life. So I just slice it and pile it on the chips and spoon the salsa over everything. And that is the perfect lunch, in my book.

I love Chipotle's corn salsa, and while I don't claim that this is even remotely the same, I did begin with that amazing stuff in mind. Consider this a spicy distant cousin.

I love the flavor of roasted corn. In season, you can just shuck a few ears and toss them on the grill next to your burgers and rotate so that each side gets a little bit toasty and blackened. But because it's not quite sweet corn time, I just started with frozen corn and dry roasted it in my cast-iron skillet, which is a decent substitute.

Roasted Corn and Jalapeno Salsa

Roasted Corn and Jalapeno Salsa by Nick Krug

Roasted Corn and Jalapeno Salsa


2 cups frozen corn
1 Roma tomato
1 fresh jalapeno
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of one lime
Dash of green hot sauce (in my book, El Yucateco Salsa Picante de Chile Habanero is the only choice)


Heat your cast-iron skillet over high heat and toss in the corn. You want a single layer. While it begins to roast, start chopping the tomato, jalapeno, onion and cilantro. The key here is to dice everything as close to uniform size as you can.

Leave the corn in the pan and resist the urge to stir it for about 4 minutes or until it starts to blacken. Then give it a good stir and roast the other sides a bit.

Remove it from the heat and put it in the fridge or freezer to cool off. The heat will wilt the cilantro otherwise. When it's cool, combine everything and squeeze the lime juice over the top. A dash of that amazing green sauce is the big finish.

This is great on nachos, or as a topping for a rice and black bean bowl, or inside a big burrito. But for me, it's a meal in itself. And it tastes like summer, which is a really welcome change.


Breakfast bagel sandwiches for boys and girls

The Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence hosts a breakfast at their Teen Center every Wednesday morning. Did you know that? It's free. FREE BREAKFAST.

Different supporters of the club come in and cook special things, and the community is invited to come hang out, visit, network and learn about the Club if they're interested.

I jumped at the chance to guest cook at one, because: A) Bacon, and B) Awesome cause. I knew that cooking breakfast for 50 wasn't a super simple feat, so I thought hard about what would be doable, yet delicious, and worthy of the event. I decided that breakfast sandwiches would be great because they're portable for those in a hurry, easy to make to order, and well, bacon.

My recipe for 50 can easily be scaled back or even made larger, depending on the size of your party, but I will definitely be making these again when I have house guests or an event to host.

Here is enough for 12 sandwiches, but scale down or up as needed.

The Perfect Bagel Sandwich

The Perfect Bagel Sandwich by Mike Yoder

The Perfect Bagel Sandwich
12 bagels, toasted
12 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 red peppers
1/4 cup minced chives
12-ish strips of bacon (more is always good)
1/2 cup good maple syrup
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Sauces and smears are always nice, so I made two for this occasion.

Herbed Cream Cheese Spread
1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup mayo
1/4 cup chives
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder

Mix well and chill before serving.

Maple Sriracha Mustard
1/2 cup yellow mustard
1 tablespoon Sriracha
2 tablespoons good maple syrup

Mix and serve.

If you have a lot of bagels to toast, a simple way to do it quickly is to slice them open, lay them face up on a baking sheet, spray them with cooking spray, and pop them under the broiler for a minute to brown. Otherwise, just use your trusty toaster.

Crack all of your eggs into a bowl, add the salt, pepper and garlic powder, and then add in finely chopped red pepper and minced chives.

Whisk together thoroughly.

Prepare a 9-by-12 casserole with a thorough coating of cooking spray, and pour in the egg mixture.

Bake at 375 F for about 20 minutes. When it's almost set up, sprinkle cheese on top and bake another 5. The edges should start to pull away from the sides, and the center should be set. Watch closely so you don't over or undercook.

For the bacon, just lay the strips on a broiler pan or put a baking rack on top of a cookie sheet. Bake at 375 F (can do with the eggs or before) for about 20 minutes, remove, coat with syrup, and bake again for 5 minutes until cooked but not too crispy.

Just cut the eggs into 12 slices, pop onto the bagel, top with a strip of bacon cut in half, and wrap in foil to retain heat. Let your guests decide how to garnish. A little arugula, some mustard or cream cheese, and a lot of love make these a great treat for a crowd.


Ballard Banana Pops a good sweet treat

Feeding kids is a huge challenge. They are picky, messy and prone to preferring preservatives and artificial color over fiber and vitamins.

At the Ballard Center, where I work, this is a daily task. We try to feed the children healthy things, but we also don't want hungry kids running around all day because they refused to eat a quinoa salad full of kale for lunch.

Snack time can be a particular problem, because in kid world, snack usually = cookies, crackers or other homogenized convenience foods. In an effort to keep our sanity and also provide healthful options, we look to things that look fun but also provide actual nutrition over just full bellies.

Bananas are fantastic kid snacks. They are self contained, require no silverware (bonus: no dish washing!), and are chock full of good stuff like potassium and fiber and lots of vitamins. But bananas alone are fairly boring, so we try to dress them up. Kids love things that look like Popsicles or that come on sticks, and pretzels are a fairly good option for that. So banana pops often grace our snack tables in the afternoon.

They can be done lots of ways, but a kid-approved favorite is the granola pop. They love the crunch and the sweet and they're super easy for our amazing cook, Miss Julie, to put together.

Banana Pops

Banana Pops by Nick Krug

Ballard Banana Pops

2 bananas, cut into six pieces

1 cup granola (we like to mix in raisins)

1 cup jelly or fruit preserves (try to get naturally sweetened — costs more but worth it)

12 pretzel sticks

Cut the bananas into sections. With a spoon, smear about a tablespoon of preserves on one end of the banana, and dunk the sticky end into a bowl of granola. Sit the banana on the granola end, and pop a pretzel stick in the top.

Serve immediately. Bananas brown quickly and the pretzel sticks will get mushy inside the banana over time, so this is a make-and-eat treat. Kids love them and we all can feel good about ourselves for serving a sweet treat that came mostly from nature.


Albondigas for Monday Tapas

Meatball Monday is a "thing" at our house. I don't do it every Monday, but I do it regularly enough that I like to try to change things up so as to avoid a meatball slump.

In an effort to be mindful of our health, I try to use leaner meats for meatballs and stay away from beef, delicious as it is. This time, I did a combination of ground turkey and ground pork, and with the addition of a little goat cheese and some flavorful ingredients, some really tasty meatballs were born — with a fraction of the fat and calories.

I wanted to do these meatballs "tapas" style, which means a Spanish twist and served sans pasta, called "albondigas" in Spain. They are a treat unto themselves and not just a sideshow to spaghetti.

Simmering them in a rich sauce only adds depth to meatballs, and this sauce brings a lot of flavor to the party. Saltiness from olives and freshness from grape tomatoes makes this a nice departure from a traditional marinara-soaked meatball.

"Albondigas" meatballs

"Albondigas" meatballs by John Young

Albondigas For the meatballs

1 lb ground turkey
1 lb ground pork (as lean as you can get)
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
Cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
2 cloves garlic, minced
Chopped flat leaf parsley, about 1/4 cup

For the sauce

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup sliced olives (I used black for this but green Spanish olives would be nice too)
1 can petite diced tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cracked black pepper

Mix all the meat ingredients together with your hands until thoroughly incorporated. Form into balls about the size of a golf ball.

Meanwhile, start your sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven and drop in the garlic to begin sauteeing. Add the fresh and canned tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients, put the lid on, and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.

For the meatballs, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan (I use cast iron) and brown them on all sides thoroughly. As they finish browning, drop them in the sauce to simmer and continue to cook through. Put the lid on and simmer for 20 minutes.

Serve with good bread, Spanish green beans and a glass of sangria!


Rustic beet panzanella

If you have never had Limestone Pizza's Warm Beet and White Bean Salad, you should rectify that immediately.

It is a beautiful winter salad that I would happily eat any time of year. It's vibrant in taste and color, and it's filling, so the name "salad" hardly does it justice. It's more of a "dish."

I went in to Limestone recently to have said salad, and it was already gone for the day. This is no surprise. If you have had the salad, you understand why it was sold out. But I was unable to sate myself with just the pizza, and continued to think about the beets all day long, until I simply had to go home and make something similar for myself.

I would never claim to have replicated Limestone's recipe. In fact, rather than try and be disappointed, I just made up a whole new salad that I hoped would suffice in the stead of Limestone's original.

I thought about the things that I find important, like texture, acid, sweetness and substance. I came out thinking that the best thing I could do would be make a beet panzanella, and that is just what I did.

Sweetness from apples and honey, the pucker of balsamic, earthiness of beets and spinach, the salty goodness of bacon, and crunch from sunflower seeds all appealed to me, mixed in with the heartiness of a rustic loaf. What is missing? I daresay nothing.

Rustic Beet Panzanella Salad

4 medium-sized beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
Dash of salt
3 strips bacon
3 cups baby spinach leaves
1/2 rustic baguette, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons herbed goat cheese
1 gala apple

For the dressing
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon basil leaves
Dash of onion powder
Dash of garlic powder
Salt and pepper

Shake the dressing together in a jar with the lid screwed tightly on.

Heat the oven to 400 F. Cut the stalks off the beets and chop them into slices.

Roast them in olive oil and salt for 30 minutes. Fry the bacon and chop into small pieces.

Meanwhile, assemble the rest of your salad. Add spinach leaves, diced apple chunks, hunks of goat cheese and the bread pieces.

Top with beets, drizzle healthily with the dressing. Serve immediately.


Mustard, mashed potatoes and March Madness

March is a very special month in Lawrence, and I'm not just talking about basketball. The venerable Free State Brewing Co. also hosts its annual March Mustard Madness event wherein hundreds of different kinds of mustard are trucked in and trotted out to your table to sample in myriad ways. It is the most wonderful time of the year.

In honor of this month of madness, I bought myself an expensive jar of horseradish mustard, and have been doling it out at every opportunity. For me, all mustard is really good, but hot mustard is a thing of beauty.

My kids love mashed potatoes as much or more than they love me, so I make them often, since at this point I am happy if they eat anything at all, no matter if it is all carbs all the time.

In order to make the mashed potatoes more exciting and even a little more healthy I experimented with doing them in the slow-cooker, and found excellent results. I was able to forgo the usual butter/sour cream/mayo routine that usually makes my mashers so amazing and use some chicken stock and the horseradish mustard (and, OK, a little butter), and it resulted in creamy, flavor-packed potatoes. For the kids portions, I skipped the spicy mustard, but for me, it was all about that kick.

Spicy Mustard Mashed Potatoes

Spicy Mustard Mashed Potatoes by John Young

Spicy Mustard Mashed Potatoes Ingredients 6 good-sized Yukon Gold potatoes (it's important to use Yukons for this) 2 cups chicken broth Water to cover 4 garlic cloves Salt and pepper Bacon crumbles 3 green onions 1/2 cup horseradish mustard 4 tablespoons butter

Directions Dice the potatoes (no need to peel unless you just prefer it, but Yukon peels are very good and not tough like russets) and put them in the slow-cooker, and pour the chicken broth and water over. Drop in the garlic cloves and salt and pepper the liquid amply.

Cook 6 to 8 hours on high.

Then remove the potatoes and retain about a cup of the broth. If you have a stick blender this is a good application for it, but I just used my hand masher right in the slow cooker crock.

Put the potatoes in the crock, add the butter, mustard and more salt and pepper. A dash of garlic powder is good here too. Mash everything, adding cooking liquid back in as needed to get your desired consistency.

Mix in bacon bits and chopped green onions. You'll never want normal mashed potatoes again.


Sesame steak rice bowls a quick, nutritious lunch or dinner

I make rice bowls regularly because they come together quickly and can really utilize whatever ingredients are waiting in your refrigerator or pantry.

Chicken, steak, shrimp, pork — all work in a rice bowl. Or you can forgo the meat altogether and make a really tasty vegetarian dish with some black beans or tofu.

I usually do these dishes with either an Asian or a Mexican flavor palette, and generally they are low in fat and fresh, which is very appealing when you consider how quickly they can be made.

For this, I wanted a nod to Korean flavors, so I included sesame and chili powder to kick it up.

I started with a few small steaks I'd purchased on sale in a family pack and divided. For four healthy servings, you probably need about 12 to 16 ounces of steak; it's not about large portions of anything, but more about balancing several flavors in one bowl.

Korean Sesame Steak Rice Bowl

Korean Sesame Steak Rice Bowl by Nick Krug

Korean Sesame Steak and Rice Bowl

12- to 16-ounce steak (skirt steak will do, or any smaller/thinner steak)
1 red bell pepper, cut in strips
2 cups sugar snap peas
1 cup onion, cut in strips
1 tablespoons good chili powder
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup uncooked jasmine rice
Fresh cilantro and Sriracha for garnish
Fried eggs, optional

First, cook your rice. I like to toast the rice in a little butter before I add the water and bring it all to a low boil together. This process makes for a little more piece-y rice, but less sticky.

Meanwhile, in a skillet (I recommend cast-iron), heat a tablespoon of sesame oil over medium heat and add the peppers and onions, stirring so they darken on both sides. After about 5 minutes, add the snap peas, soy sauce and minced garlic, and continue to saute until everything is softened. Salt and pepper to taste. Just before you remove it from the heat, add a teaspoon of sesame seeds and toast just a little.

Rub the steaks on both sides with salt, chili powder and black pepper.

Remove the vegetables from that skillet, or start another with a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of sesame oil. Bring the skillet to very high heat, and then add the steaks. Cook for 2 minutes on each side to get a good sear, and then transfer the skillet to a 250 F oven for about 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the steaks and your desired finished temperature. I like mine medium rare, so 5 minutes was plenty for my small steaks.

Slice the steaks up into strips and arrange your bowls. Start with rice, then vegetables, then layer on a few strips of steak. Garnish with some fresh cilantro, a dash of Sriracha, and a few more sesame seeds. If you are really ambitious, fry an egg to go on top.


Girl Scout Cookie Pie

We all love Girl Scout cookies, right? So this is a wonderful time of year when sweet shining faces appear at our doors with boxes of goodness wrapped in community love.

I have some friends who work for the Girl Scouts, and they had the great idea to use some cookies in a recipe, rather than sitting down and eating the entire box in one sitting, which is my usual game plan. I decided their plan had merit, and went to work creating a dessert worthy of the cookies.

Historically, my favorite cookies were called Do Si Do's, but they're now called Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies, which I guess is a lot more descriptive. Anyway, I had three boxes of these beauties and knew I'd start with them.

Graham cracker crusts are easy and virtually fool-proof, and Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies will make a crumbly crust just like graham crackers, and so an idea was born. I considered my options and couldn't decide between pie and parfaits, so I made both. Same ingredients, different application.

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies are not the only peanut butter cookie the Girl Scouts produce. There is also the amazing Tagalong, now known as the Peanut Butter Patty. I happened to have a box of those as well, so I decided to work them into the mix because nothing goes better with peanut butter than chocolate.

Girl Scout Cookie Pies and Parfait

Girl Scout Cookie Pies and Parfait by John Young

Girl Scout Cookie Pie and Parfait

For the crust:
2 sleeves of Peanut Butter Sandwich cookies
4 tablespoons melted butter

Run the cookies through the food processor until they're well-pulverized into a sandy texture. Then add the butter and pulse a few times to combine until the mixture clumps together.

Preheat your oven to 350 F. I used individual tartlet pans but this recipe will make an 8-inch pie and then some. Press into the bottom of the pie pan(s) and bake for about 10 minutes until the crust gets more solid and starts to brown just a tiny bit.

For the filling
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 cups confectioner's sugar
5 Peanut Butter Patties, broken into pieces
1 cup maple whipped cream (recipe below)

In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, peanut butter and confectioner's sugar, and mix on medium speed to combine thoroughly.

Fold in the whipped cream and cookie pieces. Set aside.

For the maple whipped cream
1/8 teaspoon maple flavoring (extract)
1 pint whipping cream

Whip on medium speed until soft peaks form.

For pies or tarts, let the crust cool and then load in the filling. Top with extra Peanut Butter Patties, a little of the graham cracker mixture, peanuts and a dollop of maple whipped cream.

For parfaits, there is no need to heat the oven. Just load some of the graham cracker mixture into the bottom of the glass, and layer in filling, cookies, peanuts and finish with a little of everything on top.

These certainly dress up the peanut butter cookies, though they really need no added glory; they are marvelous on their own. But since this is easy to make and requires little to no baking, it is fun to assemble with children and is a real hit with grown-ups and kids alike.


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