Sunday, March 30, 2014

Libby's Chunky Guacamole

You know it has been a long winter when the first 45 degree day brings people out of the woodwork.  Kids were in shorts and t-shirts, motorcycle and bicycles were out, neighborhood campfires in the air....everyone taking advantage of the first sign of spring!

My kids are looking forward to our first campfire of the year, we will do that tonight.  Last night we had to skip the fire in favor of the Badger game and what a game it was!   I was a senior at UW the last time the Badgers advanced to the Final Four.  Probably won't be reenacting the game, as my bestie that I watched it with is now 6 months pregnant with twins.  

In preparation for the upcoming picnic and party season, I wanted to share with you my time-honored  recipe for guacamole.  I've been making this guacamole for probably a dozen years.  It dates back to my early years at Kerry.  Once a month we would have a birthday celebration potluck.  The guacamole would be set out at 8 am and gone by 10.  It never lasts very long.  

The key to amazing guacamole is perfect avocados.  I was lucky enough to have 4 nearly perfect avocados for my most recent execution of this recipe.  

Cut the avocados in half and remove the pit by jarring the knife into the pit and twisting. This is the best way to get the pit from the silky flesh without compromising the delicate texture of the avocado.

The avocado is scored right in the shell in order to provide some nice chunky texture, and then scooped out, one half at a time and added to the mixing bowl.

Next comes to the lime juice, this ingredient is critical to keep the fresh, bright green color of the avocados from turning brown.  One tablespoon of juice per avocado is my general rule of thumb, so in went 4 tbsp lime juice on top of the avocados.

While the measuring spoon is out, and I do actually measure the lime juice because too much ISN'T a good thing!) the lime juice is followed with olive oil, same ratio as before, so in goes 4 tbsp of olive oil.  I give a lot if credit to the olive oil in this recipe for the smooth, creaminess of the finished dip.  

Next up, one half of an onion is finely chopped along with one tomato, chopped and added to the avocado.  

Now for the seasoning, start with 1 tablespoon of minced garlic.  Also add 1/2 tsp of cumin, 1 tsp of chili powder and 1 tsp of salt.  The salt can always be increased upon tasting before serving, but can't take it out if too much is added.  

Final addition is 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped up.  I've had lots of comments from cilantro-adverse friends who are surprised by how it doesn't bother them in this dip.  It really adds to the freshness of the flavor profile.  

Now, in order to maintain the chunky texture, just stir with a fork a bit initially, refrigerate and stir again before serving.  Don't rush it, the perfect creamy texture come with a little bit of time.  

Ideally, this would be made a the night before serving or at least a few hours in advance.  This gives the avocados time to soften just the right amount and allows all of the flavors to meld for the perfect guacamole.  

This dip is so versatile, it's enjoyment goes well beyond tortilla chips.  Just this week we ate it with burritos and as a burger topping.  I love it on soups, sandwiches and grilled cheese, also adds a nice touch when served with eggs.  Options are endless!


4 avocados - chunked
4 tbsp lime juice - to prevent browning
4 tbsp of olive oil - for creaminess
1/2 of a medium onion - finely chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
1/2 tsp of cumin
1 tsp of chili powder
1 tsp of salt
1/4 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped

Mix all ingredients together, gently stir with a fork and refrigerate before serving.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Homemade Chicken Tenders and Succotash

Yep, you read that right...succotash.  One of Jerry's favorite side dishes and repeat requests, so I decided to finally bite the bullet and give it a whirl.

The one minor issue was that not only have I never eaten succotash before but I've never made it either and I didn't even have a recipe to go off of, all Jerry gave me was corn, Lima beans and bacon in a roux.  It was quite an adventure!  (At least as far as the kitchen is concerned!)

But, before I get into the succotash, I'll start with the tenders as they took a little longer to cook, so I made those first.

These homemade chicken tenders are an all-time favorite of our family, kids and adults, alike, requested often and received with cheers of joy (bet you can picture Jerry doing his happy dance right now)!

Luckily for you and I, both, they are pretty low maintenance, the tenders that is.

I started with fresh tenders today, but often thaw out frozen tenders as they are a staple in our freezer. Only other required ingredients are fried onion crisps and some flour.

For eight tenders, I used 2 cups of the fried onion crisps and 2 tablespoons of flour.  Pour them into a re-sealable bag and crush, I use my trusty, under-utilized rolling pin for a uniform crush.

This ratio of onions to flour is actually quite important, as the flour is there just to fill in the small spaces between the crushed onion pieces.  If there is too much flour, it will soak up the moisture from the surface area of the chicken before the delicious, crispy onions can adhere which will result in bland, floured tenders and not delicious crispy, oniony tenders as intended.

Place half of the moist tenders, either from their own juices, water or a milk/egg wash, if you prefer, into the bag with the crushed fried onion crisps and flour, toss to coat and then take them out and place them on a foil-lined pan

Bake the tenders at 400 F for about 20 minutes! It's that easy!

Enter, succotash experiment.

Bacon was up first on the list, can't really go wrong with 5 slices of bacon as your starting point.  After pouring out some of the bacon fat, one chopped onion was added to the pan, over medium heat, to soften before creating the roux.

To create the roux, 2 tablespoons of flour were added to the onion and bacon fat to cook.  Then, vegetable broth was added, a couple tablespoons at a time, while whisking constantly, until nearly two cups of broth were added to achieve the desired consistency.

This is where I fell short, according to Jerry's memory, there should have been at least double the roux.  It was ok by me, but I'll revise accordingly next time around.

Finally, 1 lb of frozen corn, thawed, and 1 lb of frozen Lima beans, thawed, and one tablespoon hot sauce were added to the roux and folded together together before being topped with the beloved bacon, which was  snipped with a kitchen shears.

A word about Lima beans...I've only ever been exposed to canned Lima beans, which are generally pretty mushy, so thankfully Jerry requested frozen Lima beans, they were much better than their canned counterparts.

The tenders were devoured, per usual.  The succotash was sweet (from the corn), smoky (thanks to the bacon) and creamy (compliments of the roux). I am intrigued enough by this side dish, that I'll probably give it another try, might be the best way to serve lima beans.


Homemade Chicken Tenders
8 chicken tenders
2 cups of the fried onion crisps
2 tablespoons of flour

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Crush the fried onion crisps in a resealable bag.
Add half of the tenders, toss to coat, place onto foil lined pan.
Coat the other half of the tenders, add to pan and bake for 20 minutes.

5 slices of bacon
1 chopped onion
2 tablespoons of flour
2 cups of vegetable broth (added a few tablespoons at a time)
1 lb of frozen corn, thawed
1 lb of frozen Lima beans, thawed
1 tablespoon hot sauce 

Fry bacon and set aside.
Use some of the bacon fat to sautee the onions.
Add the flour and whisk in the vegetable broth a few tablespoons at a time, while stirring constantly, until desired texture and volume are achieved.
Fold in the corn, lima beans and hot sauce before topping with the bacon.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spaghetti Squash Pizza Boats

We've made it to the last week in March and can only hope that warmer temperatures make their arrival along with the new month.  The snow on the ground this morning isn't exactly what I was hoping for.  I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Basketball wrapped up recently with a wonderful weekend in the Dells at The Great Wolf Lodge with our basketball families. Now, we are looking forward to soccer and baseball, whenever warmer temperatures arrive.

Despite the cool afternoons, the kids have been outside with friends after school, at least enjoying the longer days of sunlight.  Last night when they came in with their cheeks rosy from the cool temperatures, there was some nice, warm, filling and healthy pizza boats ready for them.

I love this combination of something familiar and something healthy.  The kids weren't sure what they thought of the spaghetti squash itself, but when it was loaded with their beloved pizza toppings, they dove right in!

To serve my family of five, I bought 2 spaghetti squash, which are about 3 lbs each.  Each serving was a quarter of a squash and there was enough for seconds and leftovers.

These yellow squash are solid!  They must be pre-heated for a minute in the microwave, after piercing, in order to cut them in half for baking.  Then, scoop out the seeds and fibers and they are almost ready to go into the oven.

The preparation for baking was pretty simple, just brush with olive oil,  sprinkle with seasoning salt and fresh ground black pepper.  I was pretty liberal with all three of these, because once they are cooked and the spaghetti is shredded, there is plenty go to around.

Contrary to many preparation methods, these were baked cut-side up at 400 F for 40 minutes, then checked for tenderness and ease of shredding.  Since there were a few tough spots, I popped them back in for another 10 minutes to ensure doneness.

The next step was to top with your favorite pizza toppings.  Starting with an 8 oz jar of Classico Pizza sauce, 1/3 cup was spread on top of each half, then a handful of shredded mozzarella cheese (probably another 1/3 cup) and finally, 2 of them were topped with pepperoni, to satisfy the meat lovers in the family.

The kids did really well with this variation of a time-honored favorite.  They were intrigued by the fact that the shredded squash really did look like spaghetti and I'm always pleased when a filling, healthy meal can be served up as a one-dish wonder.


2 Spaghetti Squash
Olive Oil 
Seasoning Salt
Black Pepper
8 oz jar of Classico Pizza Sauce
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
(any additional pizza toppings of your choice)


Preheat oven to 400F, pierce squash and microwave for 1 minute to soften. Cut in half, brush on olive oil and generously season with salt and pepper. Bake, cut side up for 40 minutes, or longer if necessary, until squash shreds easily.

Remove from oven, top shredded squash with favorite pizza toppings.  I used 1/3 cup Classico pasta sauce, a handful of shredded mozzarella cheese and some pepperoni.  Return to oven until cheese is melted.

Cut in half and serve!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Delicious Chicken Quesadillas with Bacon

It has been an exciting week in the All Things Libby household.

Tuesday, I spent the afternoon on my grandparents' farmland cutting firewood with my brother.  It was a beautiful day and there is something so nostalgic about spending a few hours tromping through the same woods that we explored decades ago as munchkins.

All of that lumberjacking was a lot of work!  Thankfully, in addition to a truck full of firewood for the summer, it also earned me the treat of having dinner prepared by my dear husband, reminded me of when we were dating.

He prepared his signature dish of tortellini with homemade tomato cream sauce and cheesy garlic bread.  It was the perfect meal to refuel after a grueling afternoon in the woods and before my volleyball match at night.  (I asked him to take pictures, but he declined, or ignored, my request).

And an added bonus was that there was leftover tomato cream sauce which was perfect for the quesadillas for last night's dinner.

Before I get to the delicious chicken quesadillas, I also want to share another recent development.

Thursday, I started as an instructional aide at Harmony Elementary school, which is only a half mile from home and where our youngest, Landon, is a 2nd grader.  I think I may have gotten more hugs today from adorable little girls, than I have from my own growing kids in the last month.

I'm thrilled for the opportunity to be a part of such a great school and to contribute the education and future of our children.

Now, on to this fabulous, family-pleasing meal.  

Starting with the frozen chicken tenders, add them to a pan over medium heat with some hot oil for sautéing and sprinkle in some seasoning salt.

While they were cooking, I chopped up the onion and tomato, to cook in the pan when the chicken was just about done.

After chopping the chicken, it was added back to the pan, to really get the party started!

Next came some rice that was also leftover from earlier in the week.  (Have I mentioned that I hate throwing away leftovers?  If anything can be incorporated into another meal, it will be!)

Finally, the tomato cream sauce (recipe below) was poured into the pan to complete the chicken filling.

For a simplified version, just some sour cream thinned with milk, if necessary, stirred in with the chicken, tomatoes and onions would still yield a similar result.

Now, starting with a medium flour tortilla, placed in a pan, sprayed with Pam, make a smooth layer of the chicken filling.

Then add the shredded colby jack cheese and lastly, surely not least, cut in a slice of bacon, using a kitchen shears before topping with a second tortilla.

The bacon was left from breakfast for dinner earlier in the week and I pleaded with the guys, that if they left a few pieces I could use it in another meal later in the week.  I don't think they were disappointed.

Cook on each side over medium heat for a few minutes, to desired doneness/browning.

One of the trickiest parts of making Delicious Chicken Quesadillas with Bacon, in my book, is flipping them.

The best way that I have found is to use an inverted plate, slightly smaller that the pan, place it on top of the tortilla to hold the quesadilla together while flipping and then sliding back into the pan with the cooked side up.  (This may have been an appropriate time to take and insert a video, as I'm not sure that words do it justice.)

After another 3 or 4 minutes on the second side, the Delicious Chicken Quesadillas with Bacon is done.  I slide it out onto a cutting board and use a pizza wheel to cut into quarters after it has had a chance to cool for a few minutes (usually after I have that next quesadilla started in the pan).

Serve it up with some sour cream and salsa (avocados or guacamole would also be fabulous) and your family will be begging for more.

I always make extras of this dish, as cold quesadillas are even better than cold pizza!  Try it, you'll see!


Jerry's Tomato Cream Sauce 
1 small onion, chopped
2 tbsps minced garlic
1 stick of butter
2 cups of heavy cream
8 oz tomato sauce

 Saute the onion and garlic in the butter, add the cream and finally the tomato sauce, simmer to desired consistency.

 Chicken Filling
2 # frozen chicken tenders
3 tbsp oil
1 medium onion - chopped
1 tomato - chopped
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup tomato cream sauce

Cook chicken in pan with pre-heated oil.  When nearly completed, add the onion and tomato to sauté.  Chop up chicken and return to pan, add rice and tomato cream sauce.  Simmer to desired consistency.

Pam - cooking spray
1 package medium flour tortillas
Chicken filling (from above)
2 cups shredded colby jack cheese
5 slices cooked bacon

Spray pan with Pam, place tortilla into pan, add a smooth layer of the chicken, then add cheese and bacon before topping with a second tortilla.  Cook on each side for 3-4 minutes until tortilla is browned and cheese is melted.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fish Tacos and AWESOME Sauce

Happy almost spring!  I'm sure that you are at least as excited about it as I am!

I have been humbled, to say the least, by all of the positive reviews of the corned beef casserole.  It has left me at a bit of a loss, as how do I follow my biggest recipe yet.  That is a huge feat, as generally I have a dozen recipes up my sleeve, ready to go, but not this time.

Well, they are there, but I surely don't want to disappoint all of you corned beef lovers out there.

In fact, I've spent a lot of time I switch gears completely and go with a dessert as to not even attempt to compete with the Irish dish?  Do I go with a pasta salad, gearing up for spring picnics and get togethers?  Or stick with the season and go with fish.  Yep, that's the ticket.

Fish is not a seasonal meal for us, or maybe it is...EVERY season!  We love fish...grilled, baked, broiled, boiled, pan fried, in soups and even raw, for all of you sushi lovers out there.

One of my favorite entrees to order out has become a household staple, fish tacos.  They are easy, light, filling and fresh.  I love all of the textures and favors that can be wrapped up into one lil tortilla for a fabulous meal.

The secret for an amazing fish taco is AWESOME SAUCE!  Creamy, spicy, tangy and cool, the perfect accent to finish the dish.

Before I start the fish, let's get the sauce whipped up so that all of the spices have a chance to come alive, as they absorb moisture.  Other terms for that would be hydrate or meld, but they sound so technical.  I prefer come alive!

So, into my favorite, yellow, old-school, 6-cup, Rubbermaid, handled mixing bowl, I start by combining 1/2 cup sour cream with 1/3 cup mayonnaise and 1 tbsp lemon juice.

Then comes the real fun, especially for someone who used to develop seasonings! I went through my spices and poured a random amount of anything that intrigued me into the palm of my hand.  I generally adjust the amount according to my own personal affinity for a given spice.

For duplication purposes, I'd say nearly 1 tsp each of ground coriander, dill weed, ground oregano, garlic, chili pepper and black pepper.  More like a half teaspoon of cumin and red pepper.  I'm acutely aware of how too much cumin can ruin a dish and if I go too crazy with the red pepper, I'm just giving my kids an excuse for not eating their dinner.

Don't let all those spices intimidate you, for simplicity purposes, you could just use a seasoning blend that you already have in your cupboard.  Some examples might be Old Bay, lemon herb, lemon rosemary or Adobo seasonings.

Whip this all up together and then, add my secret weapon...dill pickle juice to thin the sauce to your preferred consistency.  I went with 3 tbsp of the flavorful nectar, as I really appreciate the tang that it brings to the sauce and I have it in my head that fish tacos are supposed to be messy.  The sauce running down my hand is a sign of a great taco!

The sauce is set a aside to come alive and the fish is prepared.  This time I used Pollock, but not sure I'd recommend that, as it was a little too flaky during the preparation process.  I've used Tilapia on the past and recall it being a bit more user friendly. Really, any fish that suits your fancy or that you have on hand works great in these tacos, especially with the AWESOME sauce!

The thawed fillets were cut into tender-sized pieces for ease of breading, cooking and eating.  The breading was the beloved Shore Lunch, a family favorite for years of shrimp and fish fries.

Just pour a packet into a loaf pan, or something similar sized, but nothing deeper.  The higher the sides the harder to handle.

All I was going for was a quick, single layer in order to provide texture and a little flavor to the fish.

With the pan lightly coated with 3-4 tbsp lemon-infused oil, love using flavored oils for stuff like this, be sure it is nice and HOT before adding the fish.  The high temps keep the breading crisp and deliver a nice color.

Since the fish tenders are small, it only takes a few minutes on each side to achieve the opaque color and flaky texture, which are the key signs of doneness.

Then, transfer to a towel lined plate, to cool or just hang out while the second batch is cooking.

To put all of this deliciousness together, one layer of crispy fish tenders are arranged on a warm corn tortilla.  A small amount of dry coleslaw mix is sprinkle over the fish and the AWESOME sauce is applied as generously as you like.

 Fold 'n' go! They are ready to be devoured.

I can only hope your family enjoys them as much as ours does.


Awesome (Fish Taco)Sauce
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise 
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp each of ground coriander
1 tsp dill weed
1 tsp ground oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground red pepper
2-3 tbsp dill pickle juice

Mix all of the ingredients together and set aside while preparing fish.

Crispy Fish Tenders
4 fillets of fish of your choice, cut into tenders
1 packet of Shore Lunch (Fish breading/batter mix
4 tbsp of your favorite high temperature oil, garlic or lemon infused is nice

Lightly bread tenders with Shore Lunch and pan fry for 4 minutes on each side until opaque and flaky.

Fish Taco
Corn Tortillas
Pan Fried Fish
Coleslaw Mix
Awesome Sauce

Assemble, according to order listed above, and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Corned Beef Casserole

Happy Paddy's Week!

Just in time for this beloved Irish holiday, I wanted to share my latest creation...Corned Beef Casserole.

My husband requested corned beef last week and since it wasn't something I'd ever made before, I politely added it to my suggestion list.  You know...the list of things that may never get done. Everyone has one of those, right? 

And, then, bam…it hit me like a ton inspiring bricks, I can fulfill Jerry's request and tie it right in with the upcoming holiday. Double duty. Always love a 2 for 1 deal. 

Even with a name like Bailey, neither of us have any Irish in us.  But, since I've spent my fair share of time in Ireland, including two Paddy's day trips (which means I was there last year at this time), I do have a special place in my heart for this Irish tradition.

Contrary to the rumors, the Dublin city centre is, in fact, a wild and crazy place to be on Paddy's day.  I have never been to Mardi Gras, but in my mind I would liken it to that.  Paddy's Eve was mad (as they say in Ireland) with costumes and hoopla galore.  We thankfully managed to find a table in the back of a pub with some live music, (since we had NO idea what we were in for) and take in the revelry.  We also hit up the parade the next morning, because, well, how couldn't we?!? (Even though it meant getting up much too early considering the time our heads hit the pillows the night, ahem, morning before.)

Also to be noted, good luck finding food on Paddy's day in the city centre...the pubs don't have time for that. They are already packed full of people content with liquid diets for the day.

Makes me wonder what my friends who are now living in Dublin will be doing this year for the holiday.  Stick around for the mayhem? Or head out of town for a more low key celebration?

So, with my Irish spirit roaring, I headed to the store yesterday to pick up the essential ingredients, starting with the corned beef, Swiss cheese, cabbage (the lazy approach…I can justify the from time to time) and the marble rye bread.

Since I was a corned beef novice, I went to the meat counter at Woodman's to seek some expert advice.  Thankfully, the gentleman behind the counter was able to guide me to the roasts, which was exactly what I was looking for to build this meal around. He was even able to tell me what to look for, that the flat square roasts are a better cut of meat than one that is round or pointed.  I am very grateful for that bit of information and will be sure to return for more questions.

I brought home the 2 lb corned beef roast and put it in the crock pot with its juices, the included seasoning packet and water to just cover the roast.  I set the crock pot on auto, which gets it started on high until it hits a certain temperature and then automatically changes it to low.  The roast simmered for about 5 hours until it was easy to shred with fork. Longer would have been fine too, but I had to get moving.

While the roast was resting, the other of the ingredients were prepared.  Three red potatoes were chopped, fairly small since this was the limiting factor in the baking process.  I also chopped up one onion, added that to the potatoes, along with 1 cup of coleslaw mix,  2 cups of shredded Swiss cheese, 1 can of cream of mushroom soup and 1 cup of milk.

As I said, this was my first attempt at corned beef anything, and the casserole ingredients were part of the experiment.  The only revision I'd suggest is that more coleslaw mix could be added.  I was intentionally conservative because my family is not particularly find of cabbage (or kraut, much to my dismay...I would have loved to make this a Reuben dish), but the cabbage was not even discernible.  The carrots were noticed, but any root vegetable is fair game in an Irish-inspired dish.

The chopped and shredded corned beef was added to the mix, gently stirred and poured into a 9x13 pan for baking.

Cover with foil and bake at 350F for 40 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

While the dish was baking, I took 6 slices of a rye and pumpernickel marble bread and chopped them up to serve as croutons on the top of the dish.

Final step before serving was to uncover and top with croutons return to the oven for another 5 minutes, bumping the temperature up to 400F.

"This one's a winner" was Jerry's resounding endorsement.  Ryker had seconds, which is nothing new,  but Landon's seal of approval was asking if he could have the leftovers for dinner tonight.



2 lb corned beef roast
3 red potatoes chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup of coleslaw mix (could be doubled)
2 cups of shredded Swiss cheese
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1 cup of milk
6 slices of a rye and pumpernickel marble bread, chopped into croutons

Shred or chop up cooked corned beef roast

In a large mixing bowl, combine potatoes, onion, coleslaw, Swiss cheese, mushroom soup and milk.

Add the corned beef.

Pour into 9x13 baking dish.

Cover and bake at 350F for 40 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Top with croutons and bake, uncovered, for additional 5 minutes at 400F until croutons are crisp.