Rosemary, Oil & Vinegar Dipping Sauce

My sister-in-law, Elise, is one of my "idol chefs."  If you are wondering what I mean by that I will gladly share my definition and I am sure everyone knows a few people that are like this in the kitchen.  No matter what dish she is cooking, she will add a dash of this, a dash of that and then taste it.  Almost every time she does this, she will then follow with, "hmmm, I should really add some ginger root (or any ingredient I could never imagine enhancing the dish).  Sometimes it's soy sauce in the asparagus or Dr. Pepper in the meat marinade.  Anyway, I'm sure you catch my drift that she doesn't really follow recipes and comes up with magical dishes.  I dream of cooking like this one day and have just lately started trying to add my own flare instead of rigidly following recipes.
All that to say, I would like to share this wonderful dipping sauce I had last time I was at her house.  I know this is nothing too out of the ordinary, but I do hope to share more of her recipes in the future (I just have to follow her around in the kitchen and write down every "splash of this and pinch of that").  Now olive oil and vinegar is something most everyone has had at a restaurant, but the addition of rosemary and sea salt makes this wonderful.  This is a great dipping sauce to serve as an appetizer to almost any meal.

Rosemary, Oil & Vinegar Dipping Sauce
Recipe Note
My favorite bread to serve with this sauce is the Rustic Loaf from Central Market.
1/2 olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1-2 teaspoons finely grated sea salt
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
Step by Step
1. Combine all ingredients and lightly stir.
2.  Serve with a crusty loaf of bread.  My recommendation: Central Market's Rustic Loaf


King Ranch Casserole

Well, here at the Little Kitchen, we are officially on a budget.  I mean sure this is nothing too new, but it's time to cook affordably without sacrificing delicious hearty meals.  This king ranch casserole has been a favorite of mine ever since my friend Megan shared the recipe in college.  It's great for a dinner party, but also makes wonderful leftovers so you can eat on it all week if you are just making it for two.  The mixture of chicken, mexican spices and melted cheese makes a delicious dish.  Enjoy!
King Ranch Casserole
Recipe Notes
This casserole can be refrigerated before cooking for a day or two or it can be frozen for up to a month.  To really save time, you can also use a cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and shred it instead of cooking the chicken. Once the casserole is cooked, it is important to let it cool for at least 10 minutes so that all the ingredients can set.  For the cheddar cheese, mild or sharp will work, but I prefer sharp.
1 cup diced yellow onion
2 cups cooked chicken (click here for recipe)
1/2 cup butter
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can Rotel chopped tomatoes
1 clove of minced garlic
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 cup chicken broth (1 can)
10 white or yellow corn tortillas
4-5 cups of grated cheddar cheese
Step by Step
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Saute onions in butter.
3.  Add soups, rotel, garlic and chili powder.
4.  Cut tortillas into quarters.  Place torn tortilla quarters in chicken broth for 10 minutes.
5.  Line the casserole dish with the torn tortillas.
6.  Fill dish with alternate layers of sauce, chicken, cheese and then torn tortillas.  You want two layers of each ingredient.
7.  Top with cheese.
8.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Take out of oven when cheese is bubbling and slightly browned.
9.  Allow to set by cooling for 10 to 20 minutes before serving.

How To: Boil Chicken

So I clearly didn't post this for the beautiful picture or how appetizing it looks.  However, I did post "how to boil chicken" because it is the base of a few of my favorite recipes.  When I first started cooking, I steered clear of any dish with chicken unless I could grill it because that is all I knew how to do.  I thought it was ridiculous when ingredient lists would include "1 cup of cooked chicken."  Well, how exactly am I suppose to come up with this "cooked chicken?"  Grill it? Bake it? Boil it?  I knew nothing.  So I decided to share this simple "how to" so that when I soon post some of my favorite recipes that call for "cooked chicken," no one will be left in the dark! Examples of what you can do with these chicken chunks include chicken salad and mexican casseroles.
Again, I apologize for the bland picture, but I thought it was a must to share!

Basic Boiled Chicken
Recipe Notes
When you are boiling the chicken, feel free to add anything to the water that will enhance the flavor.  For example, I always heavily salt the water, but I will also add garlic cloves if I am using the chicken in a mexican dish.  Other ideas are bouillon cubes, onions or herbs.
The time that you cook the chicken will depend heavily on the breast size.  Start to check for doneness after 10 minutes because you don't want to overcook the chicken and have it come out tough.  However, you must make sure there is no pink left in the middle!
Serving size: One boneless, skinless chicken breast will equal approximately 1 cup of diced cooked chicken.
Step by Step
1.  Bring a pot of water to a boil.  You will need enough water to cover the amount of breasts you are cooking.
2.  Add any flavor enhancers to the water, such as salt, garlic cloves or a bouillon cube.
3.  Add boneless skinless chicken breasts to water.
4.  Turn the heat down till the water is simmering.
5.  Cover and allow to simmer for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on breast size.
6. Check that chicken is cooked thoroughly by making sure there is no pink left in the center of the chicken.
7.  Cut chicken into chunks. (Size will depend on what the given recipe calls for)


little kitchen loves... Ikea Nonstick Skillet

This is one of my favorite little kitchen secrets.  When it comes to buying pots and pans there are so many options.  Sometimes buying high quality expensive pans is definitely worth the money, but this is not the case with a nonstick skillet.   This is an essential pan to have in any kitchen to cook anything from eggs to any dish with cheese when you want an easy cleanup.  This is actually a tip I got from a friend who is a professional chef.  Whether you buy an expensive nonstick skillet or a cheap one, they will give you the same results and no nonstick pan lasts forever because the nonstick surface will wear out and you will need to throw it away.  My chef friend told me some of the best chefs in the world have cheap nonstick skillets.  This set of two from Ikea is perfect and the price couldn't be better... $7.95 for two! When browning meats and making sauces, you will want to use a good skillet and I will talk about the pans I have invested in on a different post.  But for now, I am suggesting you pick these up from Ikea for all your quick cooking.  Now remember, when you start to see the surface of the pan peeling off, it's time to throw the pan away and get another one.  At least this way you won't be too sad to see that pan you paid a couple bucks for go in the trash!


Blueberry Dumplings with Vanilla Ice Cream

There is nothing like blueberry desserts in the summer.  You can buy plump blueberries for cheap and serving them in this dumpling dessert is a great twist.  I served these the other night when we had some friends over and my friend Merrill described this dessert perfectly. She said it tasted like a warm blueberry muffin with ice cream.  The slightly sweet cake dumplings simmer in the blueberry sauce and soak up all the flavor.  This is such a great dessert because you can prepare the dumplings ahead and then cook them while you eat dinner so they will be ready to serve warm.  And best of all, it comes across as a complicated dessert, but couldn't be easier to make.  Enjoy!
Blueberry Dumplings with Vanilla Ice Cream
Recipe Notes
The term "cut the butter into the flour" simply means to mash the butter until it turns into crumbs in the flour mixture.  If you do not have a pastry cutter, a fork will work fine.  You can see in the picture above the crumb textured state of the dough before you add the milk.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar, plus 1 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of Salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup milk
1 quart fresh or frozen blueberries
2 cups water
Vanilla ice cream (or fresh cream)
Step by Step 
1.  Stir flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl.
2.  Cut butter into dry ingredients using a pastry cutter or a fork.
3.  Add milk to form dough.  Using your hands, roll dough into golf ball size balls.
4.  In a large saucepan, combine berries, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and water and bring to a boil.
5.  Drop dumplings into hot boiling berries one at a time.
6.  Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and cook slowly for 20 to 30 minutes.
7.  Do not remove the lid before 20 minutes has passed, and do not stir the dumplings.
8.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or fresh cream.


Caprese Skewers

Here again three of my favorite ingredients pop up in a new way.  I was in Austin last weekend and was a part of a cooking class with a private chef.  She taught us some wonderfully simple summer recipes.  I plan on telling you who she is in case you live in Austin and ever want to have a cooking party, but I have promised her I would wait till she got her website done! I just couldn't wait to post these skewers because they could not be easier and perfect for a quick summer appetizer.  Enjoy!

Caprese Skewers
Recipe Notes
You can use just red cherry tomatoes if you can't find the yellow ones as well.  However, they do add great color if you can find them!
1 cup yellow and red cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cup small mozzarella balls, sliced in half
10-20 fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
10-20 toothpicks or small skewers
Step by Step
1.  Place mozzarella balls and tomatoes in a bowl.
2.  Toss mozzarella with salt and olive oil until lightly coated (more salt can be added to taste).  Sprinkle with pepper.
3.  Layer a piece of mozzarella, a tomato half and a basil leaf on each skewer.
4.  Serve at room temperature. 


Mediteranean Salad + Lemon Caper Vinaigrette

So another challenge came my way, and I just had to take it on.  At lunch in the office one day, my coworker Frances had a salad with a yummy lemon caper vinaigrette from a restaurant called the Picnic. It was light and a refreshing and we decided we just had to figure out what was in it.  I did a little research and found a great recipe that came out very similar and found a great salad to go with it as well. It would pair perfectly with any grilled meat or fish. You could also use the dressing on all sorts of salads.  Enjoy!
Lemon Caper Vinaigrette
Adapted from recipezaar.com 
Serves 2
1 teaspoon minced shallot
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 tablespoons capers, with their liquid
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Step by Step
1.  Combine all ingredients in a jar or bowl.  
2.  Shake well to combine ingredients.
3.  Refrigerate until ready to use.
Mediterranean Salad 
1/2 bag mixed greens (I like the bag of baby mixed greens, but you could also use spinach or romaine)
grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup kalamata olive, pitted
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbles
1/4 red onion, sliced thin
Step by Step
1.  Mix all salad ingredients in the bowl.
2.  Toss with dressing before serving.


Ashlea's Aisle: Cuisinart Griddler

The Cuisnart Griddler is the ultimate appliance for a little kitchen. Or any kitchen for that matter, but I have to say I couldn't imagine my cooking with out it! I don't know what assumptions you have made about the rest of our little abode after seeing this tiny tot kitchen, but there is no sprawling porch with a barbecue pit connected to this place.  So I use this griddler for all my grilling as well as paninis and grilled bread.  However, the endless possibilities are not even my favorite part.  The fact that you can snap the plates off to put them in the dishwasher makes this gadget even more of a dream.  You can either clamp the top down to cook meats quickly or open it up flat to cook for a crowd.  The griddler can be bought at most any store that carries kitchen appliances, but can also be bought here on Amazon.


Weekend Update: Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter...Final Farewell

Well, it's officially time to bid farewell to our dear Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter.  It had a good run (well not really), but I have had to face reality that growing tomatoes when the heat index has hit 108 degrees is just silly.  We had some highs and lows (okay, I guess mainly lows since I never saw an actual tomato), and I have to give my official report. The Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter has officially failed.  However, I cannot really blame this on the Topsy Turvy completely.  It  was a little unreasonable for me to try and get these going in mid May in Houston.  I am going to give this sucker another chance next spring because I think that is fair.  So in review, I will share what I learned.  In this region of Texas, you must plant tomatoes by late March or early April.  I also learned that the yellow flowers are the beginnings of tomatoes if they just have enough cool air and water to stay alive.  Thanks for following the journey and we will see this tike next spring!  


Pesto Grilled Chicken

When you have grilled chicken ten thousand times, it's time to spice things up!  As I usually chant on this  site, it's not about complicated meals, but using everyday ingredients in a new way.  This time it was simply adding leftover pesto to grilled chicken to give it a whole new twist.  This is a great weeknight meal and can be ready in less than 20 minutes.  Enjoy!
Pesto Grilled Chicken
Serves 2
Recipe Notes
I sprinkled parmesan cheese on the chicken and then a little on top of the chicken.  This is a great addition, but really not necessary to buy unless you have it on hand.  The chicken will still be good with just the pesto.  I used store bought pesto for quick preparation.  You can either buy a whole tub or some grocery stores like Central Market have pesto where you can measure out exactly how much you need.   You do not need to do anything to the pesto.  I took mine out of the refrigerator and set it on the counter while I made the chicken so that it could come to room temperature.  There is no need to heat it separately.
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Seasoning salt (I like McCormick's)
3 to 4 tablespoons pesto (make with this recipe or use store bought)
2 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese
Step by Step
1.  Heat grill or grill pan to medium heat and coat with cooking spray.
2.  Heavily season chicken on both sides with seasoning salt and pepper.
3.  Grill chicken until no longer pink in the middle.
4.  Remove chicken from grill and sprinkle each breast with one tablespoon
5.  Remove from heat and sprinkle each breast with one tablespoon of parmesan cheese.
6.  Top the cheese with 1 to 11/2 tablespoons of pesto on each breast.
7.  Serve while warm.


Lemon-Garlic Shrimp & Vegetables

Okay all you health nuts, I have a recipe for you (and a great website too).  If you like to find recipes that are healthier twists on not so healthy favorites, you should know about Eatingwell.com .  Lots of their recipes use fresh ingredients and they find ways to keep in the flavor without overdoing the fat and calories.

My friend Mary came over for dinner the other night and she requested we make something healthy.  Specifically, not a lot of carbs.   Now I like to eat healthy, but when company is coming over, I like to make the yummiest recipes, which aren't super super healthy.  So I went on a mission to find a very flavorful, healthy dish.  Eating Well provided that recipe with this shrimp and vegetable saute.   The shrimp really seemed to soak up the lemon garlic flavor.  I served it with cous cous as well, which went really well with the dish... sorry Mar, I had to throw a carb in there somewhere!
Lemon-Garlic Shrimp & Vegetables
Serves 4
Adapted from EatingWell.com 

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 large red bell peppers, diced
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound raw shrimp (26-30 per pound), peeled and deveined
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Step by Step
1.  Heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium to high heat in a large nonstick skillet.
2.  Add bell peppers, asparagus, lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to soften, about 6 minutes. 
3.  Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and cover to keep warm.
4.  Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add shrimp and cook for 1 minute; stirring occasionally.  

5.  Whisk broth and cornstarch in a small bowl until smooth and add to the pan along with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until the sauce has thickened slightly and the shrimp are pink and just cooked through, about 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat. 
6.  Stir in lemon juice and parsley. 
7.  Serve the shrimp and sauce over the vegetables.


Baked Brie & Rosemary Pizza

I have stumbled upon another perfect appetizer pizza!  This would be a sure hit at a dinner party, but  also makes a perfect "dinner for one" dish, which is how I enjoyed it one night when Mr. Hungry wasn't home.

I have to admit I get a little giddy when I venture out by trying my own twist on a recipe and it turns out to be amazing.  Well, that is exactly what happened here.  My friend Kate told me about the combination of a Boboli pizza crust, brie and rosemary.  As I was pulling out the ingredients to try this, I spotted some leftover kalamata olives and thought I would really live on the edge and add a few.  They were the perfect compliment!

Try this pizza for a delicious and quick meal or appetizer, and try your own twist with whatever you have in the fridge!
Baked Brie & Rosemary Pizza
Recipe Notes
Below I have not added amounts for these ingredients.  I do this because you can easily gage how much to put of each ingredient depending on which size crust you choose.  You can also alter ingredients based on you and your guest's tastes.  If using as an appetizer for a large group, use a sharp knife and cut into small squares.  Enjoy!
Boboli Pizza Crust
Brie, sliced thinly (about 1/4 inch thick)
Fresh rosemary
Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
Step by Step
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Cover entire crust with slices of brie.
3.  Top cheese with kalamata olives.
4.  Sprinkle with rosemary.
5.  Bake pizza for 10 to 15 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.
6.  Cut into pie slices or squares to serve.


Roasted Tomatoes + Caprese Pasta

Here I am posting the exact same ingredients that I did last week with a new carb in the mix.  But I will tell you this another that won't let you down.  These roasted tomatoes are from the Junior League of Houston's cookbook called Peace Meals (if you don't own this, you should), and I thought they would go wonderfully mixed into a pasta.  The tang of the grape tomatoes mixed with the fresh basil and chunks of mozzarella just melt in your mouth.
Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from Peace Meals by The Junior League of Houston
1 pint grape tomatoes
coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Step by Step
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2.  Place tomatoes on rimmed baking sheet.
3.  Drizzle with olive oil and toss lightly to coat.
4.  Generously sprinkle salt and pepper to cover tomatoes.
5.  Roast for 15 to 20 minutes.
6.  Let tomatoes cool slightly and reserve for pasta.
Caprese Pasta
Serves 4
1 box Angel Hair Pasta
Roasted Tomatoes (recipe above)
1/2 cup torn fresh basil
1 cup fresh mozzarella, cut into small chunks
Coarse Sea Salt
Splash of Olive Oil
Step by Step
1.  Heavily salt a pot of boiling water and cook according to directions.
2.  Drain pasta and return to pan immediately.
3.  Add tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and a splash of olive oil.
4.  Mix and let mozzarella melt slightly.
5.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.


Deli Style Sandwiches @ Home

As I have mentioned before, I am not a peanut butter and jelly kinda girl.  Nor do I like most sandwiches people make at home.  Until I realized you could easily make almost any yummy sandwich at home with a few of the right ingredients.  I am mainly talking about this so I can share my new favorite bread.  This is the Italian White Loaf from Central Market.  They have all kinds of breads to spice up your sammies, but you should definitely give this one a try!  Simply layer your favorite meat, cheese and spreads and stick under the broiler for about 5 to 10 minutes (watch carefully so it doesn't burn!).  Layer on veggies and you have yourself a deli style sandwich! Enjoy!
My Deli Style Sandwich
Central Market Italian White Loaf Bread
Monterey Jack Cheese
Thinly sliced deli ham
Avocado slices
Tomato Slices
Coarse sea salt and pepper


Ashlea's Aisle: Berndes Crepe Pan

Welcome to Ashlea's Aisle.  This is a new category of The Little Kitchen that will feature items that you would find on my aisle, if I had one.   I will be sharing my favorite kitchen tools and appliances, grocery finds, or anything that I have found to be useful in the kitchen.  

To kick-off Ashlea's Aisle, I am spotlighting the Berndes crepe set.  I have to credit to the pan for making all my crepe creations not only possible, but also easy and delicious.  The pan can be purchased separate from the set; however, at $34.99, I suggest springing for the whole set.  The ladle gives you perfect portions and the flat spatula makes flipping really easy.  The set includes a crepe mix that can help you get started right away, but making batter from scratch is quick and easy once your run out.  You can buy the Berndes crepe set here, or if you are in Houston you can find the set at Bering's.  


Happy Fourth of July Pie

Happy Fourth of July everyone! I hope you are having a splendid day at a barbecue or the beach.  Of course there are lots of other things to do, but those just sound the most fun on this holiday.  I would like to share a pie recipe that is perfect for today as you can see.  This is my friend Megan's favorite pie and I am so glad she shared the recipe with me, and it is also called Dream Pie.  While I love making this for Fourth of July, it is perfect all summer long and could not be easier!  Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!
Dream Pie
Recipe Notes
One thing I would do differently that is not shown in my pictures is to put banana slices up the sides of the crust as well.   The bananas are delicious and you are going to want as many in each slice as possible!
Graham Cracker Crust (store bought works great)
1 egg white
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 container of Cool Whip, prepared according to instructions on tub
2 bananas
Step by Step
1. Prepare pie crust according to package and allow to cool completely.
2. Beat cream cheese and sugar until combined.
3.  Fold Cool whip into cream cheese mixture until combined.
4.  Line pie shell with 1/2 inch slices of bananas, packing them as close together as possible.
5.  Cover banana slices with cream cheese mixture and press into pie shell until smooth.
6.  Top with blueberries and bananas.
7.  Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours before serving.


Pesto Mozzarella Melt

I have yet to find a recipe that involves pesto, mozzarella and tomatoes that I am not in love with.  Whether on a pizza or stirred into pasta, the Italians had it right when they combined these three.  I love using our griddler to make quick paninis and this is one I make the most.  If you do not have a griddler or panini press, you can use a nonstick skillet to get a sammie toasty and melted.
Pesto Mozzarella Melt
makes 2 sandwiches
4 thick slices of sourdough
3 tablespoons fresh basil pesto 
1 tomato, sliced 
slices of fresh mozzarella, about 1/4 inch thick
olive oil
Step by Step
1.  Heat griddler to medium heat and lightly coat plates with cooking spray
2.  Lightly coat one side of each piece of bread with olive oil. Spread pesto on the other side of both slices.
3.  Layer pesto side of bread with tomatoes and cheese and place other piece of bread on top so that the sides brushed with oil are both facing out.
4.  Lay sandwich on griddler and close lid.  Allow sandwich to toast and mozzarella to melt.  
5.  Continue to cook until bread is to desired crispiness.
6.  Remove from griddler and serve.