Chopped Kale Salad with Bleu Cheese & Bacon

Kale. Seriously can’t get enough of it. Ben can’t either. No complaints here.

Chopped Kale Salad | thepajamachef.com

Normally, our kale is cooked–in pasta, fried rice, or as a base for chicken or pork. But this time, I decided to do something different and make a chopped kale salad. That’s right… raw kale, chopped into a billion teeny tiny bites and tossed with a fabulous array of toppings and the most spectacular dressing ever. Intrigued?

Chopped Kale Salad | thepajamachef.com

What makes this salad special and different is ALL the tastes and textures going on. Crisp carrots, sweet apples, salty bacon, pungent bleu cheese, tart cranberries, crunchy toasted almonds. And a sweet peanut butter-maple vinaigrette that is nothing short of amazing. I was literally eating it with a spoon, for goodness sake! It has a peanut butter base, so that’s totally legit, right?

By the way, if you aren’t the biggest fan of bleu cheese, don’t let this scare you. There’s only enough to give a hint of the flavor, but if you like it you can always substitute feta or parmesan. I don’t always include cheese in my salads but it really works in this one, to make it more substantial. Just FYI.

Chopped Kale Salad | thepajamachef.com

I threw this recipe together quickly on a busy night when we were headed to a small group dinner, and it was all but polished off. Fortunately, there was enough leftovers to enjoy for lunch the next day, but the salad definitely got a little soggy on day 2 so I would recommend adding the dressing just before serving if at all possible. I only made this a couple weeks ago and am totally craving it now, as I write this at 10:27 pm. I have a feeling this salad is going to become a regular in our house and I hope it will in yours too! Enjoy!

So you tell me… have you ever had a kale salad before? What are your go-to [kale] salad mix-ins?

a year ago… Man Cupcakes
three years ago… Creamy Baked Spaghetti

Chopped Kale Salad with Bleu Cheese and Bacon [dressing adapted from Iowa Girl Eats]
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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 bunches kale
  • 1 1/3 cups red cabbage
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 large Fuji apple
  • 3 ounces bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • freshly ground black pepper

dressing

  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter

Directions:

Wash and dry kale, then tear into small bite-size pieces, discarding thick stems. Add to a large bowl and set aside.

Wash and dry cabbage, carrot, and apple, then shred. I used my food processor but a grater would also work. Add to kale, along with bleu cheese, bacon, almonds, and cranberries.

Whisk together balsamic, olive oil, maple syrup, and peanut butter until smooth to make dressing, then drizzle half over the salad. Toss to combine, and add more dressing as desired. I used about 3/4 of the total dressing made. Season with black pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Time: 20 minutes.

Yield: 10-12 side salads, 3-4 meal size salads.

Linked up with: Tuesday Talent Show.

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Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese

So, any other Call the Midwife fans out there? The season finale was last night–and oh my goodness!!! If you haven’t seen that show, you are missing out. It’s my newest love this spring–right up there with jalapeños, both of which are QUITE surprising because I never have liked medical-type shows and I certainly have NEVER been a spice kind of person. But now I crave it. Spice and midwifes. Mhmm.

Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese | The Pajama Chef

The inspiration behind this incredibly cheesy, gooey grilled cheese with a kick is one of my absolute favorite restaurants, Scotty’s Brewhouse. Scotty’s is an Indiana chain and if we ever move from Indiana college towns I will be so super sad because pretty much everything there is great. From their waffle fries to their burgers to their salads, I’m just in love. We ate there at the end of April for my birthday and I randomly ordered this Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese. Why? I have no clue–it just sounded good. And it was good. So good in fact that I craved it for days on end, and was disappointed that this, of all times, was a date where Ben agreed to SHARE our entrees. He never wants to do that, but this time… man, what timing! Last week, I finally took it upon myself to recreate it at home. Allow me to introduce you to this masterpiece….!

Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese | The Pajama Chef

It is basically grilled cheese to the max. EEEEK! I can’t even describe it any further except to say it’s just awesome and you need to try it, like now. Cheesy, spicy, gooey. What more do you need to know? It has four kinds of cheese–sharp cheddar, Monterrey Jack, cream cheese, AND a pub cheese spread, and it also is amped up with sweet sauteed onions, crisp bacon, and spicy jalapeños! I mean COME ON! I apologize for the excessive use of capitalization and exclamation, but what can you do when something is this amazing?! Have you ever had anything like this before? This isn’t a healthy grilled cheese at all… but you can indulge a little on a Monday. In my case, I’ll be needing it to drown my sorrows about the end of this season of Call the Midwife… but in Ben’s case, he’ll be drowning his sorrows about the fact that the show has been renewed for season three. YAY! [Oh boys and their squeamishness.] Enjoy!

P.S. SHAMELESS PLUG! Please check out and like my new blog Facebook page… pretty please with a cherry on top? And sprinkles? And jalapeños? I started the page back in 2011 but just started using it over the weekend. Ha! Thanks! :)

Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese [a TPC original, inspired by Scotty's Brewhouse]
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Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced Vidalia onion
  • 2 jalapeños, thinly sliced [partially deseeded if desired]
  • 4 slices whole wheat bread [or something that's good for grilled cheese]
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter [divided]
  • 3-4 tablespoons cream cheese, softened [divided]
  • 2 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese, thinly sliced [divided]
  • 2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, thinly sliced [divided]
  • 3-4 tablespoons cheddar cheese spread [I used Trader Joe's pub cheese with jalapeños, but I think something like this recipe would work too]  [divided]
  • 3 slices of bacon, crisply cooked and chopped  [divided]

Directions:

In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When shimmering, add onion and jalapeños, and cook for 4-5 minutes until soft. Stir constantly, and if they start to burn, reduce heat slightly. Remove from heat and set aside.

Next, preheat grill pan or panini press–I used a panini press set on medium.

Butter one side of each piece of bread. Then assemble by spreading a layer of cream cheese on the non-buttered side of one piece of bread, topping with Monterrey Jack cheese, sharp cheddar cheese, bacon, and half of the onion/jalapeño mixture. Spread the cheddar cheese spread on the non-buttered side of another piece of bread, then place cheese spread on the onion/jalapeño mixture. This leaves the buttered sides on the outside. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Place on grill pan/panini press for about 5-6 minutes so cheese melts and outside gets crispy. Enjoy!

Time: 20 minutes.

Yield: 2 sandwiches.

Linked up with: Weekend Potluck.

Man Cupcakes

Hello! Ben is back with his guest post column entitled One Tablespoon Testosterone, or OTT for short. Enjoy!

———

The dog days of summer are the worst.  It’s not the heat or the constant reminder that I’m getting old because I don’t get a summer break; it’s the fact that football season is tantalizingly close, yet still outside my grasp.  So in order to build anticipation for the slew of meaty and manly foods I’ll be making for those thrilling fall weekends, I decided to make a manly dessert.

Now it’s fair to say that cupcakes are hardly manly.  They’re delicious and I would never turn one down, but they’re often decorated with icing flowers and other colorful and aesthetically pleasing designs.  So I set out to make cupcakes that were none of those things.  There’s nothing froofy about these cupcakes.  They’re not aesthetically pleasing, unless you consider a strip of bacon to be beautiful (and I do).  But they are delicious and can be appreciated by anyone (except maybe small children).  They make a great dessert for a Super Bowl party, or any old time.

Man Cupcakes [cupcake recipe from Betty Crocker, idea inspired by a newspaper clipping from my mother-in-law]
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Ingredients:

for cupcakes

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 12 ounce dark beer, like Guinness
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs

for frosting

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2-4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1-2 ounces whiskey

toppings

  • chocolate chips
  • crispy bacon
  • salted peanuts

Directions:

We need to start by making the cupcakes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all those delicious cake ingredients together in a bowl, starting on low and then increasing to high until smooth.  When choosing your beer, I recommend Guinness Extra Stout as it blends wonderfully with the cocoa.  I can imagine that any chocolate stout variety would also be fantastic.  Pour the very devilish food cake batter into your cupcake papers (it should make two dozen-ish) and bake for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  While these are baking, lick the beaters and bowl.

Once the cupcakes are baked, remove from oven and allow to cool.  Now let’s make the frosting.  Combine the ingredients in another bowl and mix together until smooth.  Add more powdered sugar if it’s too thin (or more whiskey if it’s too thick!).  1-2 ounces of whiskey is enough to flavor it, but feel free to add more if you want your cupcakes to burn a bit going down (yum!).

When the cupcakes have cooled frost them and add toppings.  Peanuts and chocolate chips are good options; but sticking with the manly theme, we should add some bacon.  Cook a few strips, cut/tear them into pieces, and add it to the top of your cupcakes.  Now stand back, admire your work, and hold back the tears of joy that will inevitably want to come; there’s no room for crying in manly cooking.

Time: 1 hour active [plus cooling].

Yield: 24 cupcakes

Baby Bella, Spinach, and Bacon Frittata

It’s Christmas week. And we all know what that means. Lots and lots and lots of cookies. And I’ve been cookie baking up a storm lately. So… yeah. I’ve been enjoying a few too many cookies as of late. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And snacks. And desserts. Basically, all the time. However–yes, there’s a however, even with cookies involved–real meals are still important. Real quick meals so there’s more time for making cookies. Yep, that’s how I’m thinking nowadays.

My favorite quick meal of the year 2011 has been the frittata. Therefore, I thought a frittata was a relevant and delicious meal for this busy time. This frittata is a little fancy and rich tasting, with gooey cheese, special mushrooms [not that kind of special], and bacon yet still healthy enough thanks to an abundance of spinach to count as a real meal during cookie season. Yes! Win-win. Everybody [and every meal, and cookie] is happy and a winner. Enjoy!

Baby Bella, Spinach, and Bacon Frittata [inspired by Life's Ambrosia with technique from my Kale Frittata for Two]
printable version

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1 cup Baby Bella mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 cup spinach, tightly packed, chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2-3 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • scant 1/4 cup Swiss cheese, shredded or torn [I used one thick slice of deli Swiss cheese and tore it up]

Directions:

Cook bacon to desired crispness on a skillet over medium heat. Set aside to degrease between paper towels on a plate. Reserve 1-2 teaspoons bacon grease.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Add bacon grease to a small (8 inch) oven proof skillet set over medium heat. Cook mushrooms for 2-3 minutes or until softened. Add spinach and cook for another 1-2 minutes or until spinach just begins to wilt.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together eggs, water, and rosemary. Season with black pepper as desired [I like a lot of black pepper, but do what you like best]. When spinach has wilted a bit, add bacon to pan and then pour egg mixture over top and gently stir to incorporate eggs with mushrooms, spinach, and bacon. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the bottom of the frittata begins to set, then use a thin spatula to lift the edge of the frittata. This allows the uncooked egg to transfer below to cook. When eggs are almost set, top with cheese and place in the oven to cook for 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted and the center is set. Cool briefly before cutting, then serve warm.

Cinnamon Bacon Carbonara

Are you ready for storytime? I hope so, because I have a tale for you.

Many moons ago [or, four years ago this August] I was preparing to move out of my parents’ house and into the real world for the first time. I had moved back in after college graduation in May to raise support for my upcoming internship with Campus Crusade for Christ at Ohio University and once that was complete, I was ready to go! I knew how to cook, but aside from my mom’s tried and true recipes, I didn’t have a lot of expertise since I live in dorms and my sorority house all through college and never had my own kitchen. I didn’t own many cookbooks either. My mom on the other hand had a whole bookshelf full. So, what’s a girl to do?

Aside from stealing cookbooks in the night or spending all of my [non-existent] cold, hard cash on cookbooks [this was in 2007... food blogs and recipe sites were not what they are now], I spent several exciting days photocopying recipes and creating a little food binder for myself. My own cookbook, if you will. One recipe that caught my eye from Giada DeLaurentiis’ repertoire was this little twist on an “easy weeknight Italian supper.” The combination of sweet and salty sounded divine to me, and into the binder it went. It sounded fancy even though it was simple and I vowed to save it for something special.

The first few months of the real world provided zero opportunities for a special meal, but as the new year of 2008 sped along, the perfect occasion arose. Or rather, the perfect person.

Ben and I started dating in February of 2008 and one of the first food-related things I learned about the boy was his love for bacon. One thing we really loved to do together in those early months of togetherness was cook in my house or his apartment together, probably annoying our roommates by taking over the kitchen with ingredients and our love-sick puppy dog eyes. One night while deciding what to make, inspiration struck as I thought of my little cookbook. Cinnamon! Bacon! Pasta! Cheese! Together! A bit odd, but it could work. Right?

With courageous hearts, we quickly gathered up all the necessary components of this dish and gave it a go. I must admit, we made one significant change from Giatta’s version–she uses a 3:1 ratio of pancetta to bacon… but pancetta wasn’t really in our budget at the time so bacon all the way! We also halve the original recipe [our version is noted below] because it isn’t very good reheated–it loses a lot of flavor as the sauce absorbs into the pasta in the refrigerator.

The smell of this pasta simmering away was intoxicating and addicting. It’s what dreams are made of. One bite and we were hooked. Salty, smoky, and sweet, this dinner couldn’t be beat. And, this, my dear friends, is the true story of how Cinnamon Bacon Carbonara came to our household. It’s a recipe that’s spanned our dating, engagement, and marriage, and one that will unwittingly reach into our future.

So tell me: what recipe will reach into your future? I can’t wait to get a glimpse into your culinary life!

Cinnamon Bacon Carbonara [from Giada DeLaurentiis' Everday Pasta]
printable version

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese + more for serving
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 9 ounces fettuccine
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Directions:

Begin by preparing a large pot of water to boil over high heat.

Then, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until nearly crispy, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and cook for 2 more minutes, or until crisp and golden. Reduce heat to low.

Add the fettuccine to the pot when boiling, reduce heat, and cook for 3 minutes, or until pasta is tender yet still firm to the bite.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, cheese, and egg yolks. Pour into the pan with the bacon and cook at a very low simmer, stirring often with a wooden spoon.

Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce mixture along with the pepper. Stir together and cook on low until the sauce coats the pasta, approximately 3 more minutes. Serve topped with fresh chives, and extra cheese if desired.