Drunk Brats

About two months ago, I took my boyfriend to visit my home state of Wisconsin. In addition to seeing sights like Lambeau Field and the only remaining pulpwood stacker in the world (my hometown’s pride and joy), I made sure to introduce him to Crescent Meats, a butcher shop right up the road from my parents’ house on Highway 27 in Chippewa County. We bought cheddar wursts, beer brats to grill the next day, along with a couple beef sticks (for him, obviously). It was so good that, last month, we placed an order online to have Crescent ship us some Wisconsin-made meat, most of which was intended as a Father’s Day gift for Jay’s dad. Since we were making the order, we got some Italian sausage and beer brats for ourselves. I recently decided to do something I’ve never done with beer brats -  boil them … in beer. They turned out so good, very tender and incredibly flavorful with the addition of some herbs to the boil. I will definitely be doing this again.

36 oz. beer of your choice - we used a home-brewed red ale (3 cans or bottles)
5 or 6 beer brats (or regular bratwurst)
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. dried cilantro
1/2 tsp. rosemary

In a medium stock pot or Dutch oven, bring the beer to a boil. Place the bratwurst in the boiling beer. Add the herbs and continue boiling for 25 minutes until tender. Remove from beer broth and serve with your choice of bread/roll and condiments.


Paleo Carrot Cake

I’ve always loved baking; it’s like therapy for me … and the end result isn’t bad either. Anyway, since I started to eat healthier, I haven’t baked as much because it’s difficult to find recipes for cakes and other desserts that are good for you and actually taste good too. So when I came across a recipe for Paleo/gluten-free carrot cake that sounded like it might be tasty, I decided to give it a go (and add some personal touches, of course). As this was baking, the house smelled phenomenal - just like I was making a real carrot cake full of sugar. And the end result was quite surprising to me. The coconut flour, honey and agave nectar gives it the perfect sweetness. Note: for the frosting, it is suggested that you refrigerate the coconut milk overnight (I just put it in the freezer for about 45 minutes and it came out fine).

1/3 cup coconut flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch salt
Pinch baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup honey
1 Tbsp. agave nectar
4 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
5 eggs
1-1/2 cups grated carrot
1 ripe banana, mashed

1 can coconut milk (roughly 13 oz. - refrigerated overnight ... the Thai Kitchen brand is the most reliable because it’s most likely to solidify properly)
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Grease a 9-by-9-inch square cake pan with oil. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, combine the coconut flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cloves and cinnamon and stir together. The will amount will be relatively small, but coconut flour is very absorbent. Meanwhile, melt the honey, agave nectar and butter in a small saucepan; pour the mixture into a bowl and blend in the olive oil and vanilla extract. Add the eggs, grated carrot and banana; blend until mixed. Add the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Pour the whole mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until firm (but still soft!) to the touch. Cool completely. To make the frosting, open up the can of coconut milk that has refrigerated overnight. The coconut milk on the top of the can should be firm and white. Spoon off all of the solid stuff (there will be some sort of watery liquid on the bottom that you don’t want). Put the solid coconut milk in a bowl and add the honey, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla extract. Blend it all together with your electric mixer. Spread over the cooled carrot cake. Cut and serve; refrigerate leftovers.

BBQ Chicken

Though I have a crock pot, I really don’t use it that often. For one, you have to get up relatively early to get things going and, needless to say, I am not a morning person. So when I do decide to make something in the crock pot, it’s usually something that takes a little less time, such as BBQ chicken. Basically, it’s the same ingredients I use for pulled pork, just with chicken. Personally, I think pulled pork tastes better made in the oven over the course of the day. For some reason, it’s just more flavorful. I never found that to be true with chicken. Besides, chicken can get dried out in the oven, whereas the crock pot keeps the chicken perfectly tender and juicy. For this recipe, I suggest seasoning the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika, but feel free to season it however you like. 

5-6 pounds (about 6 to 8 pieces) boneless skinless chicken breasts, whole
paprika, salt and pepper (to season chicken)
6 slices bacon, cut into quarters
one small onion, diced
4 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2-3 cups BBQ sauce (more or less depending on your taste)

In a crock pot, layer three or four chicken breasts in the bottom; season with salt, pepper and paprika if desired. Cover the chicken with half the bacon, half the garlic and half the diced onion. Layer three or four more chicken breasts on top; season as desired. Cover with the rest of the onions, garlic and bacon. Pour the apple cider vinegar over the contents of the crock pot. Cover and cook on high for 4 to 5 hours. Tear the chicken and bacon apart and stir in the BBQ sauce. Stir and cook on low an additional hour. Serve on your favorite buns or rolls. 


Apple Cinnamon Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

My boyfriend has quite a few more work parties than we have at our office. Whenever they have one, he turns to me to come up with a delicious dish to bring. Recently, one of their potlucks was breakfast themed and I was asked to bake a coffee cake. After scouring websites for idea, I found one that looked particularly interesting called cinnamon cream cheese coffee cake. After looking through the ingredients and directions and thinking about what I could do to improve it, I decided to add apples. And it was a hit; my boyfriend forwarded me all the emails that were exchanged among his coworkers referring to how good the coffee cake was. So, if you’re looking for a good recipe to make for a work party, this seems to go over well with everyone.

Crumb Topping:
1/4 cup butter, softened and sliced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped pecans

Apple Cinnamon Cream Cheese Swirl:
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
10 oz. apple pie filling (about half a can), diced

3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. In a medium bowl, combine all the crumb topping ingredients. Using a pastry blender, blend the mixture until it resembles crumbs. Set aside. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and brown sugar until fluffy. Stir in vanilla and cinnamon. Fold in the apple pie filling. Set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just until combined after each addition. Mix in vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture, stirring just until combined. Add the sour cream and mix just until combined. Transfer the batter to prepared pan. Top batter with spoonfuls of apple cinnamon cream cheese swirl. Use a back and forth motion with a knife to swirl. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over top of cake. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test. Allow to cool before cutting.

Rice-less Stuffed Peppers

Given that stuffed peppers are one of my favorite meals (and relatively healthy), I decided to make them more Paleo-friendly by coming up with a recipe that omits the rice. While I had initially considered replacing the rice with cauliflower rice, I went a different route and added more ingredients instead. The bacon is a great accent to the turkey and the mushrooms and onion serve as fillers in lieu of rice. In the end, this recipe turned out to be very flavorful … and filling.

5 or 6 large bell peppers (any color)
1 medium onion, diced
15 slices bacon, sliced in 1/2-inch pieces
8-10 medium mushrooms, diced
1 lb. ground turkey or ground beef
1 - 14.5-oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 - 10.75-oz can condensed tomato soup
1 Tbsp. dried basil

Preheat oven to 350°. Remove tops of peppers and clean out seeds. Boil in a Dutch oven for 5 minutes. Set in cold water to cool, then drain. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, sauté the bacon and onion until the onions are tender. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Set aside. In another pan, cook the ground turkey until no longer pink. Stir in the bacon, onion and mushrooms. In a small bowl, combine tomato soup and basil. Mix 1/3 of the mixture into the meat mixture. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and place the peppers inside. Stuff the peppers with the meat mixture. In another bowl, combine the diced tomatoes and remaining soup mixture. Pour over the tops of the peppers. Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour.


Maple Bacon Mashed Sweet Potatoes

It was just a few years ago that I discovered sweet potatoes. I believe the very first thing I made with them was a sweet potato pie for Christmas (which I ended up missing out on because I had tickets to a Packers-Bears game at Lambeau Field - not a single piece was left, so it must have been good). Anyway, when I moved to Massachusetts and met my boyfriend, I started eating baked sweet potatoes with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar, which is so good. I've also grown fond of ordering sweet potato fries (also delicious) whenever they're offered as a substitute side. As you can tell, these yummy root vegetables have become a staple in my diet. Wanting to do something a little different with them, I decided to try out a mashed sweet potatoes recipe. While I could have simply done a mashed version with cinnamon, butter and brown sugar, I opted to add something a little different - maple syrup. And, of course, whenever you add bacon to something, it’s extra delicious, so that was a given!

5 or 6 medium sweet potatoes
2 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. milk
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
6 slices bacon, cut in 1/2-inch pieces and cooked

Preheat oven to 350°. Pierce each potato about six or seven times with a knife. Bake the potatoes for 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until soft. Remove potatoes from oven and allow to cool a few minutes. Cut the potatoes in half; scoop out the pulp and place in a medium-sized pot. Mash the pulp with a potato masher. Stir in the butter milk and syrup until well blended. Fold in the bacon pieces, Serve along side your favorite entree.

Teriyaki Pork Stir-Fry

I have found that when it comes to dinner, you can never go wrong with stir-fry. Aside from being delicious, it’s relatively quick and easy to make with very little preparation needed. As such, I have several stir-fry recipes in my repertoire using both pork and chicken and various different flavor like teriyaki, Jamaican Jerk, Cajun and sweet and sour, to name a few. Obviously, if you use the same seasonings over and over, it would get old. With so many options available, there’s really no need to limit yourself. While it’s difficult to decide which stir-fry recipe is my favorite, this one is up there near the top.

6 boneless pork loin chops, cut into thin strips
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
1 green bell pepper, sliced thinly
1-1/2 cups sugar snap peas
1 - 8 oz. can bamboo shoots
1/2 cup teriyaki sauce
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. water
Hot, cooked rice

In a skillet or wok, heat oil and stir fry the pork and season as desired. Remove the pork and set aside, leaving behind the juices in the skillet. In the same skillet, stir fry the onion, peppers, peas and bamboo shoots for 3 to 5 minutes. Return the pork strips to the pan with any liquid in bowl. Add the teriyaki sauce and vinegar; stir. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water well. Pour into pan with pork and vegetables, stirring as you add. The sauce will get thicker and have a more glossy appearance. Stir well to coat the meat and vegetables with sauce. Serve over rice.

Chicken Alfredo Soup

Chicken Alfredo is one of my very favorite pasta dishes; I’ve come to love it so much that I created my very own Alfredo recipe. One day, while planning dinner, my decision was between chicken Alfredo and some sort of cream soup; and then a light bulb went off … chicken Alfredo soup. Why didn’t I think of this brilliant dish sooner? Anyway, combining an Alfredo soup recipe I found online with my Alfredo sauce recipe, one of the best creations to ever come out of my kitchen was born.

1 lb. farfalle bow tie pasta
2 Tbsp. butter
2 cups water
3 cups boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced
1 head broccoli, florets only
1/2 onion, diced
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup flour
4 cups chicken broth
1 quart heavy whipping cream
2 cups shaved parmesan cheese
1-1/2 tsp. pepper
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. coriander
2 tsp. parsley flakes

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Add 2 Tbsp. butter, stirring to coat pasta. Pour into a mixing bowl, cover and set aside. In the same pot used for cooking the pasta, add the water and heat to boiling. Place a folding steamer basket into the pot and add chicken. Steam the chicken until tender and cooked through. Add the broccoli and steam another few minutes until broccoli is slightly cooked. Remove from heat and set aside. Meanwhile, in another large pot over medium heat, sauté onion and garlic in butter for a couple minutes; add flour and cook for an additional 2 or 3 minutes, stirring continuously, until bubbly. Whisk in chicken broth and heavy whipping cream; add the pepper, salt, coriander and parsley. Cook and stir until thickened. Add the parmesan cheese to the soup base and cook, while stirring constantly, until cheese is melted. Add the cooked broccoli, chicken and pasta; heat through. Serve.


Stuffed Pork Loin

To be honest, I had never had a pork loin in my life until last year. Instead of making a huge to-do, I simply cooked it in the oven plain and served it with some sides … nothing too extravagant. So, when I found a 5-pound pork loin on sale at the local grocery store a little while back, I thought I’d get a little more creative. Thus began my hours-long search of the web for a stuffed pork loin recipe. I finally found one very similar to this, but made a few changes for my tastes. When I filled the loin, I had some of the onion, bacon and dressing mixture leftover. Naturally, I grabbed a spoon and dug in. And, my word, if that’s not the most tasty combination of my favorite foods I’ve ever tried. I was thinking about saving it to put it on top of a salad, but it never made it. But, I digress. This recipe turned out to be very tasty as well. I definitely have turned myself into a pork loin fan. 

1 Tbsp. dry minced garlic
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 boneless center cut pork loin roast (4 to 5 pounds)
1-1/2 Tbsp. tablespoon butter
2 large apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 medium onion, cut into thin strips (about 1 cup)
6 strips bacon, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
2-1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. Honey Dijon salad dressing
1 cup apple cider
kitchen string

Preheat oven to 325°. Combine garlic, salt, rosemary, thyme, pepper and cinnamon in small bowl. Cut lengthwise down roast almost to, but not through bottom. Open like a book. Rub half of garlic mixture onto cut sides of pork. Meanwhile, melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples, onion and bacon. Cook and stir 5 to 10 minutes or until onions and apples are soft. Stir in brown sugar and dressing. Spread mixture evenly onto one cut side of pork loin. Close halves; tie pork loin with kitchen string at 2-inch intervals. Place roast on rack in shallow roasting pan. Pour apple cider over roast. Rub outside of roast with remaining garlic mixture. Roast, uncovered, basting frequently with pan drippings 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until thermometer inserted into thickest part of roast registers 155°. Remove pork loin from oven; let stand 15 minutes before slicing. Carve roast crosswise to serve.

Turkey Loaf

When I made the decision to stop eating red meat, I never realized how much I would miss eating basic ground beef recipes like hamburgers, spaghetti and meatballs and meat loaf. Thankfully, I have found ways around it, discovering that using ground turkey or ground pork in place of ground beef is just as good, so long as it’s seasoned properly to give it more flavor. While ground turkey is quite a bit more expensive than hamburger, it was worth it for this recipe. And my boyfriend, who eats red meat like it’s going out of style, even thought this turkey loaf was delicious.

2 lbs. ground turkey
1/2 large onion, diced
3/4 cup diced mushrooms
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. ketchup
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
pinch cayenne pepper

2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. spicy brown mustard
3/4 cup ketchup
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 375°. Place the ground turkey in a large mixing bowl; add the remaining loaf ingredients and gently mix and knead with your hands until well combined. Transfer turkey ingredients to a 13-by-9-inch greased baking pan and form into a domed loaf shape. In a smaller bowl, combine the glaze ingredients and stir until well combined. Spoon the ketchup mixture evenly over meatloaf, spreading with the back of the spoon. Bake until turkey loaf is browned on top, cooked through and a meat thermometer inserted in the center reads 165° (about one hour). Remove pan from oven and allow to stand 5 to 10 minutes before cutting.