Greek Tortellini Pasta Salad with Chicken

Greek Tortellini Pasta Salad2

 

Some of the best memories are made in flip flops … while eating this dish.

Summer’s back.  Time to make Greek tortellini pasta salad.  Here’s my update on the classic Greek salad. I mixed it up by adding cheese tortellini, shredded chicken, and a couple other tid bits.  I’ve always got cheese tortellini on hand for simple weeknight suppers.  Always a crowd (or, just me) pleaser.

I toss the cheese tortellini with chicken breasts (use a rotisserie chicken as a huge time saver), cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, artichoke hearts, chickpeas, kalamata olives, feta cheese, and parsley. On the side, I’ll put together a simple homemade Greek salad dressing.  Give it all a toss, and ,dinner is served.  Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of days.  Lunch, a simple after workout snack, or even breakfast.  (Yes, I’ve been known to eat leftover pasta salad for breakfast before work. No shame!)

This also works wonderfully for picnics, potlucks, bbqs, or a weeknight meal.  Perfect for summer.  Bright and easy. Just like my favorite pair of flip flops.

Greek Tortellini Pasta Salad1Greek Tortellini Pasta Salad3

 

Ingredients:

  • 20 oz cheese tortellini
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2 large breasts), or 1 rotisserie chicken
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 1/2 cups cucumber (about 1/2 of a hothouse cucumber), peeled, seeds removed and diced
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 14 oz can artichoke hearts packed in water, drained and chopped
  • 14 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, halved
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 5 oz block feta cheese, crumbled (I prefer feta packed in brine)
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Season chicken breasts with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Cook for 35 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.  Set aside until cool enough to handle and cut into bite sized pieces.  Alternatively, dice 3 cups of rotisserie chicken.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook tortellini in boiling water for 5-7 minutes, or according to package directions.  Drain and rinse under cold water until cool.  Set aside and reserve.
  3. Combine cooled tortellini, shredded chicken, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, artichoke hearts, chickpeas and kalamata olives in a large bowl.
  4. Make dressing by combining olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and dried oregano.  Mix well.
  5. Toss salad with the dressing.  Start by adding half of the dressing and add more to suit your taste.
  6. Add feta cheese and fresh parsley.  Toss well and serve.

Note: Salad can be served right away but is best cooled in the refrigerator for a few hours.  Salad will keep well for 3 days in the refrigerator.

Greek Tortellini Pasta Salad4

Sausage and Veggie Breakfast Strata

Sausage and Veggie Breakfast Strata

 

What’s my key to hosting brunch, you ask?

Everything’s made and prepped in advance.

With this in mind, here’s my go-to brunch recipe – Sausage and Veggie Breakfast Strata.  This dish inherently abides by my “made in advance” rule.  You’re literally SUPPOSED to make and prepare it the night before.  For those unfamiliar with the strata, it’s a savory bread pudding consisting mostly of bread, cheese, and eggs.  My recipe includes sausage and veggies.  The addition of cottage cheese provides a slightly creamy texture.  Hearty and well balanced.  All inclusive … bread, eggs, meat, cheese, veg … all in one dish.

Sausage and Veggie Breakfast StrataSausage and Veggie Breakfast StrataSausage and Veggie Breakfast Strata

 

So it’s the morning of.  All you have to do is roll out of bed, brew coffee, set out bloody mary fixins, turn on the oven, and enjoy.

You’ve got brunch questions.  I’ve got brunch answers.  Simple, tasty answers.

Sausage and Veggie Breakfast Strata

 

Ingredients:

  • Butter, for greasing baking dish
  • 1 loaf day-old Italian bread, crust removed and cut into 1 inch cubes (about 6 cups cubed)
  • 1 lb sweet breakfast sausage, cooked and crumbled into pieces
  • 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained of excess moisture
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  • 2 cups fontina cheese, freshly grated
  • A small handful fresh basil, torn into pieces (about 1/4 cup)
  • 12 large eggs
  • 2 cups half and half (or milk if you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

Directions:

  1. Butter a 9×13 inch casserole dish, set aside, and reserve.
  2. In a large bowl, combine cubed bread, cooked sausage, spinach, bell peppers, fontina cheese, and fresh basil.  Toss together well until evenly distributed.  Pour mixture into buttered casserole dish.
  3. In another bowl (I used a large measuring cup) whisk eggs until blended.  Add the half and half, cottage cheese, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.  Whisk until smooth, then pour over bread mixture in the casserole dish. (Note, not all of the bread will be covered at this point with the egg mixture. This is fine. As the casserole rests, it will absorb the eggs and become covered.)
  4. Cover the strata/casserole and refrigerate for a few hours or preferably overnight (up to 18 hours).
  5. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Let rest.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F and bake the strata/casserole, covered, for 45 minutes.  Remove cover and cook an additional 15 minutes until custard has set and the top is golden brown.  After 1 hour of cooking, if the custard has not set, return the casserole to the oven for another 10 minutes.
  6. Allow casserole to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Servings: 12

Lazy Ravioli Lasagna

Lazy Lasagna

 

So, you’re in a precarious “situation” with the mafia?  (It happens … I guess)  Cooking up a tasty lasagna would really ease some tensions, right?  Problem is, you’ve got neither the time nor the fresh ingredients for a proper dish. Lasagna noodles, ricotta cheese filling, the timely/messy process of layering of everything together?  Here’s the perfect shortcut.  We’re using frozen cheese ravioli!

So, you’re in the above precarious situation? (Figurative … play along) Here’s whatcha do:

No need to pre boil the noodles or make the ricotta cheese filling.  Simply layer together marinara, frozen cheese ravioli, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.  Then bake until bubbly and golden.  Lasagna on a mafia pressured weeknight just got a whole lot easier. (Phew!)

Lazy LasagnaLazy Lasagna

 

I had to get somewhat fancy with my marinara sauce.  (I couldn’t help it.)  I added some aromatics and Italian sausage.  If you need to save time, then crack open a jar of store-bought marinara.  In this case, make sure you remember to add 1/2 cup of water.  The ravioli’s need a bit more liquid to cook in.

Your family will think you’ve been slaving away all day.  The guys in velvet sweat suits and greased back hair will think “uncle so and so” made it fresh.

Lazy Lasagna.  Saving family dinner … one meal at a time.

Lazy LasagnaLazy Lasagna

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb bulk Italian sausage (leave out to make vegetarian)
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 3 cups marinara, store-bought (25 oz jar) or homemade
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tbsp fresh herbs, divided (parsley/basil/rosemary – whatever you have on hand)
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • 24oz frozen ravioli, I used a spinach and ricotta variety
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add onion and cook for 3-5 minutes until translucent.  Add garlic and cook for an additional minute until fragrant.  Add Italian sausage and cook, stirring frequently, about 8 minutes.  Once sausage is fully cooked, remove from heat and drain off any excess fat.
  2. Put saute pan with sausage mixture back over medium heat.  Add red pepper flakes and dried oregano.  Stir well and allow herbs to hit the warm oil to “wake them up.”
  3. Add marinara, water, and 2 tbsp fresh herbs.  Bring to a low boil and cook for 15-20 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before assembling lasagna.
  4. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.
  5. Spray casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray or grease with a small amount of vegetable oil or butter.
  6. Time to begin assembling the lasagna.
  7. Add one cup of marinara to prepared casserole dish to coat the bottom.
  8. In the following order, add half of the ravioli, 1.5 cups marinara, 1.5 cups shredded mozzarella, and 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese.
  9. Repeat with another layer – the other half of the ravioli, the remainder of the sauce (about a cup and a half), 1.5 cups shredded mozzarella and 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese.
  10. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake covered for 50 minutes. Note, spray the inside of the aluminum foil with nonstick cooking spray (or smear with a small amount of vegetable oil) so it does not stick to the cheese.
  11. Remove foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  The cheese will be melted and sauce will be bubbling in the corners.  Add 1 tbsp fresh herbs on top and allow dish to rest for 5 minutes before digging in.

Servings: 8 (serving size: 1 1/2 cups)

My sous chef couldn’t resist the aroma!

Lazy Lasagna

Stove-top Gnocchi (not mac) and Cheese with Peas

Fun enough for the kids.  Just grown up enough for the adult palate as well.  So simple to make.  Ready for it?  Sure you are.

Gnocchi3

 

This is a fun twist on macaroni and cheese.  I like creating an opportunity to introduce children to new foods and expand their palates, while simultaneously eating something with a sense of familiarity.  Stove-top Gnocchi (not Mac) and Cheese with Peas … does just that.  It’s a rich, decadent cheese sauce.  Move over kiddies, I’m diving in too.

If you’ve never cooked gnocchi (small potato dumplings) before, the time is now. Your family will love these little potato pillows.  Just bring a big pot of salted water to a boil (as you would for pasta).  Then add the gnocchi, give it a stir, and wait until they rise to the surface. About 3-ish minutes.  Once they’ve floated to the top, just strain out the water and you’re ready to go!  Easy peasy!

Prepare your ingredients ahead of time.  Shred your cheeses and have your milk and seasonings out and ready.  The thing about cheese sauce is that things happen fast.  Because you’re working with milk, butter, cheese and heat – this sauce can burn easily if you’re not careful.  By getting everything prepared ahead of time, you can focus on the cooking.

This dish comes together in under 30 minutes.  Being prepared in one pot means minimal clean up.  (We love that!)  Happy family.  Easy clean up.  Delicious meal for the whole crew.

Gnocchi2Gnocchi1Gnocchi4

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 17.5 ounce boxes potato gnocchi
  • 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 cups freshly shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cups freshly shredded fontina cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • (Optional toppings: chopped fresh basil, extra Parmesan cheese)

Directions:

  1. Bring a large heavy-bottomed stock pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the gnocchi and cook according to package directions. Drain, set aside, and reserve.  Make sure to toss the cooked gnocchi frequently so they do not stick together when preparing the cheese sauce.
  2. Next, make the béchamel sauce.  In the same pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Stir in the flour and cook the mixture, stirring constantly until light brown in color with a slightly toasted aroma, about 3 minutes. Add the milk slowly into the flour and butter mixture, whisking constantly so you get all the lumps out.  Bring sauce to a low boil, whisking constantly, then simmer,  still whisking occasionally, for 3 minutes to thicken.  The sauce should thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  3. Stir in cheeses, mustard powder, salt and pepper until smooth.  Note: Do not add your cheese too fast or too soon as this could result in clumpy, greasy chaos instead of creamy, cheesy deliciousness.  Instead, wait for your béchamel to reach the right thickness.  Then, add the cheese in three batches, making sure each batch is completely melted before adding more cheese.
  4. Add the gnocchi and peas, stirring to combine, and cook over low heat just until warmed throughout. Serve immediately with fresh basil and additional parmesan cheese.

Note: It will originally seem that there is too much cheese sauce for the amount of gnocchi. Trust me – the sauce will continue to thicken and you will be happy with the extra creamy, cheesy deliciousness.

Note: Leftovers can be topped with homemade breadcrumbs (2-3 slices of day old bread pulsed in a food processor to form small crumbs then combined with 1 tbsp melted butter and 2 tsp fresh herbs) and baked in a 350 degree F oven for 40 minutes until bubbling and golden brown.

Servings: 6

Thank you Bell Family Company for featuring Stove-top Gnocchi (not Mac) and Cheese with Peas on your blog.  Anyone living in the New York or Chicago area looking for an incredible nanny service, look no further.  Need a sitter for date night? A TravelSitter for your summer vacation?  A full-time nanny for a new baby?  They have you covered.  Visit their website for details.  Let them know Emily Always Cooks sent you!

Lamb Shanks with Parmesan Polenta and Mushrooms

Lamb Shanks with Parmesan Polenta and Mushrooms

Time to talk lamb shanks?  Why, yes. Yes it is.

From the lower section of the leg, lamb shanks are a full-flavored cut of meat.  They do, however, require a bit of love and attention to bring out their full potential.  These shanks are first browned in veg oil.  This gives them color while enhancing their rich flavor.  Then, the’re slowly braised in a flavorful and aromatic liquid.  This braising method breaks down the connective tissue and … (culinary cliche alert) …  yields fall-off-the-bone tenderness.
Lamb Shanks with Parmesan Polenta and Mushrooms
Now, let’s talk about the hot tub for the shanks.  Or, the “baaaa-th tub.” (I couldn’t resist).  All feeble-minded lamb jokes aside, I’m referring to the braising liquid.
Onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and tomato paste are caramelized in the drippings from the browning process.  They’re then combined with red wine, chopped tomatoes, beef stock, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves.  THEN … brought to a boil.  The shanks are returned to the pot (tub) and placed into the oven. Three hours later, it’s feast time.  I paired these lamb shanks with dreamy Parmesan polenta and mushrooms.  Glamorous!
Lamb Shanks with Parmesan Polenta and Mushrooms
Make plenty, as leftovers can be transformed into another meal that shines.  Shred left over lamb , combine with leftover sauce, and serve over pappradelle noodles with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.
Leftovers
Ingredients:
  • 2 1.5lb lamb shanks
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6oz can tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 14.5oz can chopped tomatoes in juice, I prefer low sodium
  • 2 cups low sodium beef stock
  • 1 cup water (or more if needed)
  • 15-20 sprigs fresh thyme, bundled together with butchers twine
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Directions:

  1. Allow lamb shanks to come to room temperature for 30 minutes. Trim off any excess fat, cut an inch off the end to expose the bone marrow, and season liberally with salt and pepper.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  3. Heat large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add vegetable oil and sear lamb shanks on all sides until nicely browned.  Remove lamb shanks and set aside.
  4. Drain excess fat from the dutch oven, leaving about 1/2 tbsp.  Drop heat to medium and add carrot, celery, and onion. Cook for 15 minutes until vegetables are nicely caramelized.  Add a pinch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper to season.  Add garlic and cook for 2 additional minutes.
  5. Add tomato paste and stir into vegetables to coat. Cook, stirring often, for 8-10 minutes to caramelize and develop the tomato flavor.  This is an important step. Don’t skimp on caramelizing the tomato paste as it adds a lovely depth of flavor to the dish.
  6. Add red wine and scrape down any brown bits that have developed on the bottom and sides of the pot.  Add chopped tomatoes, beef stock, and water.  Stir well and increase heat to medium-high to bring to a low boil.  Add thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves. Stir well.  Return lamb shanks to the pot.  If the liquid level does not come to the top of the lamb shanks, add additional water.  Season with a pinch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  (Note, if you did not use low sodium stock no need to season with salt, the stock will contain enough salt to season the dish.)
  7. Place lid on dutch oven and put in the preheated oven and cook for 2 1/2 hours, basting and rotating lamb shanks 2-3 times throughout the cooking process.  Remove lid and cook an additional 30 minutes to concentrate the cooking liquid.
  8. At this point, start your parmesan polenta and mushrooms.
  9. Remove lamb shanks to a serving platter and tent with foil to keep warm.  Place the dutch oven on the stove-top over low heat. Remove thyme bundle and bay leaves, and skim off any grease that has gathered on the surface (I removed about 3 tbsp).
  10. Taste sauce and season with salt and pepper if necessary.  Add 1/4 cup fresh parsley.
  11. Spoon about 2 cups of sauce over lamb shanks and serve with parmesan polenta and mushrooms.
  12. You can serve the lamb shanks 2 ways – remove excess fat from the shanks, discard, and serve chunks of lamb mixed with the sauce (like a ragu). OR -serve each person an entire lamb shank to pick at themselves.  Both ways are equally as good 🙂  ALWAYS serve with parmesan polenta and mushrooms.
  13. Top plated dish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.

Servings: 2-4

Note: If you are serving a crowd, there will be enough sauce for 4-6 lamb shanks – no need to double the sauce if you cook additional lamb shanks.  Just make sure your dutch oven is large enough, or cook in 2 pots.

Leftovers: Shred left over lamb shanks, combine with leftover sauce, and serve over pappradelle noodles with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.

Leftovers

Smoked Trout Salad

Smoked Trout Salad

 

It’s been said before. It’s awfully true … Food is memories.

When I was growing up, many a Friday in the winter meant one thing to me.  Roooooad trip!  We’d get out of school at 2:30 pm.  By 3:00 pm, the car was packed and we were heading north.  Skis and snowboards on the roof. Duffel bags squished into every nook and cranny (usually a friend or two in tow).  On the way up, we would stop at this little gas station that sold the best locally smoked fish.  We typically stocked up on salmon, whitefish, and trout for the weekend.  I still remember the smell of the fish smoking in the parking lot.  I’ll never forget the laughter and excitement in the car as we reached our final destination.

I haven’t actually returned to that northern Michigan gas station in years.  However, I’ve found a famous local gem which “brings me back.”  Calumet Fisheries, located on the calumet river – south side of Chicago, hot smokes their fish on site using special oak logs.  This place deserves a visit if you live in the Chicago area.  Check it out.  I made a trip last weekend and stocked up on some of my favorites.  Smoked trout, salmon, and shrimp.  This fabulous smoked trout salad was a result of said trip.

Smoked Trout SaladSmoked Trout SaladSmoked Trout Salad

 

Almost comically easy to prepare – mix together mayonnaise, sour cream, chives, dill, lemon juice, salt and freshly cracked black pepper in a medium bowl.  Add in the smoked trout, shallot, and celery, stir to combine and serve one of 2 ways:

  1. Loaded high on top of an open face bagel topped with fresh dill and thinly sliced cucumber
  2. Served as a dip along side homemade everything bagel chips and veggies

A new regular in my meal rotation. Delicious morning, noon or night.  Thanks, Mom and Dad, for introducing smoked fish into my diet at a young age.  Food is, indeed, memories.  In this case, they’re both great.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb smoked trout, skin and bones removed, flaked (I yielded 1 3/4 cups flaked fish)
  • 2 small shallots (about 1/4 cup), finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk (about 1/4 cup), finely chopped

Directions:

  1. Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, chives, dill, lemon juice, salt and freshly cracked black pepper in a medium bowl.  Mix well.
  2. Add trout, shallot, and celery. Stir to combine.
  3. Serve on a toasted bagel with thinly sliced cucumbers and fresh dill or with homemade everything bagel chips (recipe below) and cucumber coins.
  4. To make homemade everything bagel chips – thinly slice a bagel into 6 slices, spray both sides with olive oil spray and season with salt. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheet half way through.  Allow to completely cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.  Worth the effort, trust me.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

Smoked Trout Salad

Roasted Tomato and Arugula Pasta Salad

Roasted Tomato and Arugula Pasta Salad

 

I’ve got roasted garlic and tomatoes, and I’ve got feta cheese, and I’ve got arugula, and I’ve got artichokes, and I’ve got a deliciously lemony dressing.  And, you may partake with me on one condition; that you listen to (read) my short rant about Spring weather in Chicago.  Those of you not dealing with these same weather conditions, just bare with me!

Mother Nature is currently unleashing her full schizophrenic arsenal on us.  One day the temperature “soars” to 60F.  The next day brings partial snow flurries and blustery winds followed by multiple days of perma-gray skies.  This time of year has me craving bright Spring flavors while simultaneously hankering for Winter comfort foods.  This dish is a lovely and beautiful combination of the two.

The produce isn’t exactly “there” yet.  My easy fix … roasting my veggies.  Roasting tomatoes brings out their natural sweetness and concentrates the flavor.  The juice from the tomatoes combines with the vinaigrette.  This coats the pasta, adding a fat free component to the sauce.  The same goes for the roasted garlic.

Roasted Tomato and Arugula Pasta SaladRoasted Tomato and Arugula Pasta SaladRoasted Tomato and Arugula Pasta Salad

 

If you live in a warm weather climate, just chalk my above rant up to ‘another Midwesterner complaining about the weather.’  If you’re here with me … Just chalk my above rant up to ‘another Midwesterner complaining about the weather.’  Either way, this dish is not weather discriminant.  Great when served cold or at room temperature.  Light and bright, yet hearty and comforting.  The answer to this cold/warm/cold/warm weather.

Roasted Tomato and Arugula Pasta SaladRoasted Tomato and Arugula Pasta Salad

 

Ingredients:

  • 16oz whole wheat penne pasta
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tsp olive oil, divided
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 sprig rosemary (optional: I add rosemary to all of my roasted vegetables because I have a rosemary plant on my windowsill garden, this can easily be left out if you do not have it on hand.)
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • A small handful of basil, about 1/8 cup, julienned
  • 15oz can artichoke hearts, quartered
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced
  • 4-6 cups arugula
  • 1 cup feta crumbled (or substitute 8 oz container ciliegine “small cherry” fresh mozzarella balls)
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions in a large pot of boiling salted water.  For al dente, my whole wheat penne took 15 minutes.  Drain and run under water to cool and stop the cooking.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Combine cherry tomatoes with 2 tsp olive oil, garlic cloves, fresh rosemary, salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Cook for 20-25 minutes until tomatoes are soft, slightly charred, and some are just bursting. Discard rosemary and mince the freshly roasted garlic. Set aside to be added to the salad dressing.
  3. To make the vinaigrette, combine 1/3 cup olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, minced roasted garlic, fresh basil, salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Give the dressing a good whisk. If using a mason jar,  give a few shakes.
  4. Combine cooked pasta, artichokes, and scallions with 1/2 of the dressing, and toss to coat. Add the fresh arugula and roasted tomatoes. Toss again *being careful not to crush the tomatoes.*  Add additional vinaigrette to your taste.  Note: The tomatoes are delicate and contain a lot of juice, so be careful when tossing.  Also, if the tomatoes burst, the tomato juice will add liquid and become part of the vinaigrette, so be careful not to over dress.
  5. Top with feta or mozzarella cheese.

Servings: 10 servings
Serving size: 1 cup – 1 1/2 cups (depending on the amount of arugula added)

Crock Pot Skinny Mashed Potatoes

Crock Pot Skinny Mashed Potatoes

 

I realize it’s been been some time since my last post.  I apologize for all the grief and anxiety that you’ve no doubt been suffering from due to this absence.  So, accept my apology, dry your tears, and let’s get goin’ again.  Game on!

I’m reminded of a wise passage I once read on a small chalkboard outside a vendor at the farmers market (you know the chalk board signs I’m talking about).  At the top of the board was written in all caps “YOU ARE A BEAUTIFUL HUMAN BEING”.  Below was drawn a large oval with about 5-6 small dots in it.  No colors, just a simple oval drawn with white chalk.

Below the oval was this:

“But I am not very good at drawing human beings, so I have drawn a potato instead.  But the potato is very beautiful too – in its own way.”

So, in the spirit of beautiful humans and spuds, I give you this recipe.

Crock Pot Skinny Mashed PotatoesCrock Pot Skinny Mashed Potatoes

 

The whole ‘mashed potatoes in a crock pot’ thing is obviously much more hands-off than cooking them the traditional way.  No big pot for boiling water needed here.

Why is this such a clever idea? Among others, here are 5 reasons:

  1. Frees up stove-top and oven space
  2. One dish to clean – you can even serve straight from the crock pot
  3. Potatoes are waiting and ready for dinner whenever you are
  4. Skinny … yes, skinny potatoes … no butter or heavy cream here (you won’t miss it)
  5. You will have plenty of time to devote to other dishes

Peel and quarter the potatoes, add to the crock pot with a little chicken broth and garlic, cover, and cook until they’re very tender.  Then mash them right in the pot with cream cheese, sour cream, salt, pepper, chives and parsley.  Put the lid back on and turn the crock pot to warm. Voila! Your potatoes are ready whenever you are.  Serve as is or load them up with cheese, bacon, and sour cream.

Crock Pot Skinny Mashed Potatoes

 

I’m loving this super simple, hands-off, healthier approach to mashed potatoes.  Simply beautiful.

Ingredients:

  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 3 lbs Yukon gold potatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/3 reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh chives, minces
  • A small handful of fresh parsley, for garnish
  • 1/2 cup warm milk, if needed

Directions:

  1. Lightly grease the slow cooker insert with cooking spray.  Peel the potatoes and chop into quarters (or eighths if your potatoes are larger).  Transfer the potatoes to the slow cooker.
  2. Add smashed garlic and chicken broth.  Cover and cook on high for 2-3 hours or low for 5-6 hours.
  3. Once potatoes are tender, turn the setting to warm.
  4. Add cream cheese, sour cream, salt and freshly cracked black pepper directly to the slow cooker insert.  Mash ingredients by hand using a potato masher, or with a hand mixer.  You do not want to over mix your potatoes, this will turn them gummy.  Mix until potatoes are just combined. Make them as lumpy or as smooth as you like.
  5. Add fresh chives and taste and season with additional salt or pepper if desired.
  6. Garnish with fresh parsley.
  7. To keep the potatoes warm, leave in the covered slow cooker on the warm setting for up to 4 hours.  If potatoes thicken too much, add a small amount of warm milk to thin them just before serving.

Makes: 6 cups of mashed potatoes

 

Tequila Lime “Margarita” Chicken Wings and Southwest Ranch Dipping Sauce

Tequila Lime "Margarita" Chicken Wings and Southwestern Ranch Dipping Sauce

 

Wasted away again in Margarita-wing-ville …

Tequila Lime "Margarita" Chicken Wings and Southwestern Ranch Dipping Sauce

 

I know, a Jimmy Buffet reference. Gimmie a break, though.  It’s Sunday afternoon, I’ve got a bit of writers block going on, and I just made wings that literally taste like a top shelf margarita. (And I just got a manicure … see those pretty nails?)

Tequila Lime "Margarita" Chicken Wings and Southwestern Ranch Dipping Sauce

 

All excuses for literary creativity aside, these wings are really good and really unique.  The tequila and lime hit you right off the bat, while the heat from the jalapeno and chili powder slowly sneak in.  Dip ’em in the vibrant green sauce and you’ve got a meal any Jimmy Buffet fan would be more than happy to devour.  If you’re not a Jimmy Buffet fan, then just pretend you didn’t read the above and know that these wings are delicious.

Tequila Lime "Margarita" Chicken Wings and Southwestern Ranch Dipping SauceTequila Lime "Margarita" Chicken Wings and Southwestern Ranch Dipping Sauce

 

Chicken Wing Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (5 to 6 limes)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • A small handful fresh cilantro
  • 3 lbs chicken wings, split at the joint, tips removed

Southwestern Ranch Dipping Sauce Ingredients:

  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2-3 tbsp fresh cilantro
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lime juice
  • 2-3 tbsp Ranch dressing mix
  • A pinch of salt

Directions:

First, make the chicken marinade.  Combine tequila, lime juice, orange juice, chili powder, jalapeno pepper, garlic cloves, salt, pepper, and cilantro in a blender or food processor.  Blend until all ingredients have been chopped, 2 minutes.  In a large bowl combine the chicken wings and the marinade.  Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours and if possible, overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.  Place baking rack on top of foil.  Place wings on rack.

Transfer the marinade to a sauce pan.  Bring marinade to a vigorous boil over high heat for 2 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 20 minutes until sauce has thickened.

Bake chicken for 45-50 minutes, turning chicken and basting with reduced marinade multiple times throughout. Broil or throw on the grill for the last 5 minutes of cooking to crisp up the skin.

While wings are baking, combine dip ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth and creamy.  If you double the recipe, no need to double the sauce.  There will be plenty leftover.

Sprinkle wings with freshly chopped cilantro to serve. Add a side of dipping sauce and plenty of napkins.

Serving: 6 (Serving size: 4-5)

Note:  Cooking alcohol in a pan over medium heat or when in the oven will reduce most of the alcohol through evaporation, but not all.  Do be aware, if you are serving children.

Thank you Casa Noble for sponsoring this post.

Tequila Lime "Margarita" Chicken Wings and Southwestern Ranch Dipping Sauce

Sticky Bourbon Chicken and Broccoli

Sticky Bourbon Chicken and Broccoli

 

Take-out-fake-out!

Unlike my last post, I can’t claim to have coined the above phrase.  I can claim a wonderful recipe worthy of staying home in your cozies, and far better than your local take out.  I can also claim a sauce that you’ll quickly become addicted to.  Let’s roll.

Sticky Bourbon Chicken and BroccoliSticky Bourbon Chicken and BroccoliSticky Bourbon Chicken and Broccoli

 

This bourbon chicken and broccoli is served over hot steaming basmati rice and topped with sliced green onions. Putting this dish over the top is the sticky, tangy, syrupy bourbon sauce.  I don’t want to use an exhausted cliche TV food host phrase, saying  ‘you could put this sauce on my shoe and I would eat it!’ … but I would.  This meal does require a little pre planning, the longer you can marinate the chicken the tastier it will be.

C’mon.  Place an order to your own kitchen to stay in.  Always worth it.

Sticky Bourbon Chicken and BroccoliSticky Bourbon Chicken and BroccoliSticky Bourbon Chicken and Broccoli

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup bourbon, I used Four Roses Bourbon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, sliced into 3 coins
  • 4 cloves crushed garlic
  • 4-5 green onions, cut into thirds or sliced
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp water (this is called a slurry)
  • 4 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 cup uncooked basmati rice

Directions:

  1. Combine the soy sauce, oil, vinegar, bourbon, and brown sugar in a baking dish (casserole dish with high sides). Whisk until combined.  Add chicken, ginger, garlic, and 3 green onions that have been cut into thirds.  Cover and marinate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Remove the chicken from refrigerator and let come to room temp when preheating the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Uncover the chicken and bake directly in the marinade for 40 minutes, rotating the chicken half way through to ensure pieces are baking in the sauce on both sides.
  3. Remove chicken from oven.  Discard the ginger and garlic.  Strain the liquids into a small saucepan.
  4. Heat saucepan over medium heat until a slow boil is reached.  Slowly add slurry to saucepan and whisk until incorporated.  Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently until reduced and thickened.
  5. Meanwhile, steam broccoli and cook rice according to package directions.
  6. Return chicken to the oven and broil on low for 5-8 minutes to caramelize, rotating pieces half way through.  You can do this right in the same casserole dish.  Watch closely, as all broilers cook at different heat.  Do not burn your chicken!
  7. Remove chicken from oven, toss with steamed broccoli and half of the reduced sauce.  Add additional sauce to your preference.
  8. Serve over white rice and top with sliced green onion.

Servings: 6

Note:  Cooking alcohol in a pan over medium heat or when in the oven will reduce most of the alcohol through evaporation, but not all.  Do be aware, if you are serving children.

Recipe adapted from Pinch of Yum

Thank you Four Roses Bourbon for sponsoring this post.

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