Spanakopita Burgers

"Eat it.  It's good for you."  That was such a deadly phrase for me when I was a kid.  Anytime my parents would utter those words, I just knew that whatever I was about to put into my mouth was going to make me gag.  Seriously.  Mushy cooked carrots, lima beans, cracked wheat cereal, a few select casseroles and the occasional baked good that was charred beyond recognition.  I know everyone has similar memories of meals in their homes, no matter if their Mom's were horrible or masterful in the kitchen.

Tonight my Dad was trying to convince my son to eat his dinner.  My father explained that one day my son would marry a girl who hasn't a clue in the kitchen and then he would appreciate my cooking so much more.  I don't buy it.  Every child bucks at what is placed before him.  Will he ever appreciate my kitchen talents?  Honestly, it really doesn't matter to me.  As long as he is healthy and has established good eating habits, then I was successful.  
Don't take my son's resistance to this meal as a reason not to give these a try because they are really amazing and yes, they are good for you too!  My Dad ate 2 1/2 of them so I think he really liked them too.

Spanakopita Burgers (makes 6 burgers)
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red onion, chopped
10 oz box frozen spinach, defrosted
1 tsp dried oregano
1 Tb McCormick's Montreal Steak Seasoning
1/4 lb feta crumbles
1 1/3 lb ground chicken or turkey

2 jarred roasted red peppers, drained
12 pitted kalamata olives
1/4 C fresh flat leaf parsley

1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
2 roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
arugula or romaine lettuce
6 crusty rolls

1.  Heat small skillet over medium heat.  Add oil and butter then garlic and onion.  Cook for 5 minutes and transfer to a large bowl to cool.
2.  Wring spinach dry in a kitchen towel and separate into small pieces into bowl of onions.  Season with oregano and grill seasoning.  Add feta, meat and a drizzle of olive oil.  Mix together very well with your hands and form into 6 even patties.  Grill burgers or cook in a hot pan over medium high heat for 6 minutes on each side.
3.  Place pepper, olives and parsley into food processor and process until a paste forms.  Spread paste on the inside of rolls, layer with arugula, cucumbers and tomatoes.  Place cooked burger inside and enjoy!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Crunch Bars

Cookie or candy?  That was my first thought when I took a bite of these bars.  After I finished my portion and could feel the sugar racing through my body, I decided on candy.  Definitely candy.  In fact, I would describe these as crunchy Reeses Peanut Butter Cups gone extreme.  If you love the pairing of chocolate and peanut butter, these intense bars will calm that need for quite awhile.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Crunch Bars

6 oz semisweet chocolate chips
2 sticks + 1 Tb salted butter
16 oz jar creamy peanut butter
3 C crispy rice cereal
2 C confectioners sugar

1.  Line an 8" square baking pan with parchment paper.  In microwave, melt half the chocolate and 1 Tb of butter, about 1 minute.  Stir together until smooth and add 1 C of peanut butter.  Stir until smooth, then add 2 C of rice cereal.  Spread mixture evenly over the pan and refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes.
2.  Rinse out bowl and melt 2 sticks of butter in microwave, about 1  minute.  Add remaining peanut butter and powdered sugar and stir until smooth.  Spread half of this mixture over the chilled chocolate layer.  Sprinkle on remaining 1 C of cereal and press into peanut butter layer.
3.  In a small bowl, microwave remaining chocolate chips for 1 minute.  Stir melted chocolate into the remaining peanut butter mixture until smooth.  Spread evenly over the top of the bars.  Refrigerate until completely set.

Chicken, Avacado and Bacon Pasta Salad

Marshall, Minnesota is an amazing small town to raise a family.  We've been here for four years and consider it a complete blessing.  I won't bore you with the list of reasons why we love it because it will be much simpler to share the one and only reason we don't:  distance from family.  Our closest relative is 15 hours away and we often throw elaborate pity-parties over that fact.

To combat the tears, we make it a priority in our time, budget and travels to visit with family all over the country and we wouldn't think of choosing anything different. Even more exciting for us is when family is brave enough to venture to our corner of the world.  We know Marshall could never be considered a tourist destination which means they love us as much as we love them!  
For the past two weeks, my parents have been visiting from Ohio and claim to be enjoying themselves.  Again, I know Marshall doesn't offer much in excitement so the least I can offer is some good cooking in exchange for their sacrifice.  Tonight's display appreciation was in the form of this pasta salad.  It is my own recipe that has evolved over many years and I love where it is right now but isn't there always room for improvement?

Chicken, Avacado and Bacon Pasta Salad
recipe by Carole Jones of
1 lb whole wheat pasta, cooked and drained
2 avacadoes, diced
1 head broccoli, diced
4 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cucumber, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, diced
4 oz can diced black olives
1 package real bacon pieces (don't use fake!!)
2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
3/4 C freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 Tb dijion mustard
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 C red wine vinegar
3/4 C extra virgin olive oil

1.  Whisk together dressing ingredients in a small bowl.  Combine salad ingredients in large bowl and pour dressing over the top.  Toss well to combine.
2.  Serve at room temperature for best flavor.

No-Bake Chocolate and Peanut Butter Oat Bars

I have an amazing 13 year old daughter.  She keeps me very busy with her endless sports, friends and activities but she is just a memorable person to be around.  I love to watch her talk, at 100 mph, about all of the above topics and it always brings a smile to my face.  Since she is my oldest, deep down, I am terrified as I watch her grow into a gorgeous young lady and need me less each day but yet, it is thrilling to see it happen at the same time.  Parenting is so weird that way!
She has inherited my love of baking and this summer especially, has enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen.  One of her favorites is a no-bake cookie so when I saw this recipe on a blog I subscribe to, I knew it was perfect for her.  We made them together this afternoon and they were really great.  The only debate tonight at the dinner table was whether or not to add more of the oat mixture next time.  Half thought they were perfect as is, and the other felt they needed more in the top and bottom crust.  I was included in the latter group.  Next try at these, I will make a recipe and a half of just the oat mixture and keep the chocolate and peanut butter portion the same.

No-Bake Chocolate and Peanut Butter Oat Bars
2/3 C butter
1/2 C brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 C oats
1 1/4 C semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 C peanut butter

1.  Grease a 9x9 square pan.  Melt butter in medium sauce pan and stir in brown sugar and vanilla.  Mix in the oats and cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
2.  Press half the mixture into the bottom of the pan.
3.  Place chocolate chips and peanut butter into a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 1 minute.  Mix together until smooth.  Pour over oats in the pan and smooth out.
4.  Sprinkle remaining oat mixture over the chocolate layer and press gently.  Cover and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours.  If they are hard to cut when serving, just allow them to sit for a few minutes until the chocolate layers warms up slightly.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

I have quite the task awaiting me and my stomach over the next while.  You see, my fridge is quickly filling with these beautiful jars of pickles but I am the only member of this family who eats them! Everyone else must have been born with some type of birth defect because they are amazing.  Cold, crisp and so deliciously tangy.  Their only downfall is that they must be refrigerated since they aren't cooked.  With all the cukes I've got this year, I might have to go buy another fridge!

Refrigerator Dill Pickles
(makes 1 quart)
fresh pickling cucumbers, stemmed and quartered
1/2 C white vinegar
2 Tb salt
1 Tb black peppercorns
1 Tb coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 C fresh dill
1/2 tsp celery seed

1.  Layer sliced cukes in mason jar, leaving 1/2" at the top.
2.  Mix together pickling ingredients and pour over cucumbers.  Fill remaining space in the jar with water.  Screw on the lid and shake for about one minute.
3.  Refrigerate for one week, shaking daily.
(I am making more tomorrow and want to try adding some sugar and using apple cider vinegar just to add a bit of sweetness.)

Greek Pitas

I know you were all hanging on the edge of your seats just dying to know what I stuffed into that great homemade pita bread (yeah, right!), so I'm back to fulfill my promise.  These were so perfect for a hot summer night and I already had the ingredients in my fridge as extras from other recipes.  Great way to use all the goodies from my garden too!  These will definitely be making repeat appearances at the Jones dinner table.

Greek Pitas
2 grilled chicken breasts, chopped
1 C shredded romaine lettuce
1 tomato, finely chopped
3/4 C cucumber, finely chopped
6 thin slices of red onion
1/4 green pepper, finely chopped
2 oz crumbled feta cheese
10 kalamata olives, chopped
6 Tb hummus (recipe below, but you can use store bought)
2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
2 Tb fresh lemon juice
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
4 pita breads, halved and opened into pockets

1.  Mix together all the produce and chicken in a large bowl.  Dress with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  
2.  Spread hummus inside each pita then stuff with filling to serve.

(makes 2 cups)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C water
14 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 C tahini
1 tsp sea salt

1.  Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.  Leftovers can be frozen for up to three months.

Pita Bread

I know I post all types of recipes on my blog, but baking is my true love.  I find it completely relaxing and enjoyable to be in the kitchen with flour all down the front of my outfit.  However, cooking is very different for some reason and I wish I could understand why.  It stresses me out every week when I sit down to compile my menu and shopping list and then every afternoon, the call to make dinner seems to continually nag at me long before it is time.  I love the end products of my time cooking, but I often sit down at the dinner table so stressed and frazzled it is hard to fully enjoy my hard work.  Can any of you relate?
Anytime I can throw some baking into my dinner menu, it helps my tension levels immensely.   I've never made pita bread so when I saw this blog post, I knew I had to give it a go.  They were so easy to make and fun to watch them blow up like little balloons in the oven.  My next post will show you what I stuffed them with but my kids loved eating them plain since they were so soft and thick.

Pita Bread
3 C bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 Tb sugar
1 Tb yeast
1 1/4 C warm water
2 T olive oil

1.  Combine water, yeast and sugar in large mixing bowl.  Allow yeast to proof.
2.  Add oil, salt and 1 C of flour.  Mix until smooth.  Add remaining flour a little at a time while mixing until a ball forms.  Turn out onto floured surface and knead dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
3.  Let dough rise until doubled in a lightly oiled bowl covered with a towel.  Punch down dough removing air bubbles.
4.  Turn dough onto floured surface and divide into 8 equal parts.  Roll them into balls and allow to rest for 20 minutes before attempting to roll into pitas.
5.  Preheat your oven and baking stone to 450 degrees.  If you don't have a baking stone, just preheat a large cookie sheet in the oven.
6.  Roll dough into 8 inch circles and allow to rise for 15  minutes, covered.  Place on your hot stone and bake for 3 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool on cooling rack.

Shrimp Pad Thai

Every August our family takes a weekend trek to "The Cities" as they are referred to around here, but are better known as Minneapolis and St Paul.  The main reason for our annual trip is to clothe our children every school year in outfits that don't come from Wal-Mart.  Sioux Falls, SD is much closer to us but since we have five kids and there is no sales tax on clothing in Minnesota, it is worth the longer drive to save 6.9% on a very large bill.
The night before our little vacation, I was busy with a million different things and needed another quick dinner.  One of my favorite blogs I subscribe to had this posted a weeks ago so I decided to give it a try.  I made a few minor changes but it was sure great and fulfills that constant need I have for Asian flavors.  Feel free to try this with beef or chicken because I'm sure they would work beautifully as well.

Shrimp Pad Thai
8 oz dried rice noodles
1 Tb sesame oil
1 Tb peanut oil
4 small cloves garlic, minced
1 large egg
1 medium red bell pepper
1 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 C bean sprouts
2 C chopped napa cabbage
1 C green onion, sliced
4 Tb rice vinegar
2 Tb Thai chili sauce
2 Tb fish sauce
3 tsp sugar
1/4 C roasted peanuts, chopped
Lime wedges

1.  Cook rice noodles according to package directions.  Drain and set aside
2.  Mix in a small bowl vinegar, sugar, chili sauce and fish sauce.
3.  Heat large pan over high heat and add oils.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
4.  Add red pepper and shrimp and cook until shrimp is cooked through.
5.  Push aside other ingredients in the pan and scramble the egg in the empty spot.  Add noodles, sprouts, cabbage, onion, and sauce mixture.  Stir all together and remove from heat.  
6.  Drizzle on an extra 1 Tb of sesame oil after removed from the heat and toss into the pad thai.  Serve with a generous squeeze of lime and peanuts.