Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Lemon Linguine with Peas & Citrus Shrimp

Here's some comfort food for spring. The creamy sauce is light and bright with citrusy flavor. The entire meal takes about 30 minutes to pull together, making it an easy weeknight dinner.

Mangia! Mangia!

Lemon Linguine with Peas & Citrus Shrimp
Inspired by these recipes from the New York Times, Martha Stewart and Good Housekeeping

2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 pound linguine, cooked to package directions
1 cup frozen peas, optional
1 large shallot, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1/2 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fill a large pot with water and set to boil.

In a large bowl, toss shrimp with tablespoon olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet. Arrange shrimp on wire rack. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until shrimp is pink and cooked through. Remove from oven, tent with foil to keep warm, and set aside.

While shrimp is baking, cook pasta until al dente. If using peas, add them to pasta during last minute of cooking. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water. Drain and return to pot.

While pasta is cooking, make the lemon sauce. In a small saucepan, heat teaspoon olive oil. Add shallots, she salt and pepper and cook about 4 minutes or until tender. Add cream and lemon zest and cook until it reaches a slow boil. Continue to cook, stirring often, until sauce begins to thicken. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Pour lemon sauce over pasta in pot and gently toss until all pasta is coated in sauce. Add a drizzle of pasta water to thin sauce if needed.

Transfer pasta to serving bowl. Top with shrimp and parsley and a generous helping of shredded Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Cheesy Spinach & Bacon Triangles

Spinach is often on our dinner table and I am forever trying to find ways to get my kids to eat the leafy vegetable.

Who wouldn't like spinach with cheese and bacon? My boys — of course.

The good news: My husband and I loved this side dish, and since there were lots of leftovers, my main course for lunch the next day was good to go.

You can tailor this to your tastes by using your favorite type of cheese or leaving out the bacon.

Mangia! Mangia!

Cheesy Spinach & Bacon Triangles
Inspired by this recipe from Family Circle

Cooking spray
3 10 ounce packages of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
8-9 slices of thick-cut bacon, chopped
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 to 6 green onions, sliced
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Generously spray bottom and sides of a 13-by-9 inch baking dish.

Wrap spinach in a clean kitchen towel. Holding towel over the sink, squeeze out as much water as you can.

Heat a skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat and cook bacon until crispy. Transfer bacon to a dish lined with paper towels. Reserve 1 tablespoon bacon drippings.

In a large bowl, mix 1 tablespoon bacon fat with flour, eggs, milk, baking powder and salt and pepper. Add spinach, cheese, bacon and green onions and stir until well combined.

Spread mixture into prepared baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes or until top starts to turn light brown in spots.

Remove from oven and cool slightly. Cut into triangles.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Butternut & Bean Soup with Couscous

There's nothing like a good soup to help you forget the troubles of your day.

I've made this one – from the January issue of Good Housekeeping magazine – a few times now. It's somehow light and filling. And the leftovers taste even better since the flavors get a chance to develop. (If your family is 2 kids and 2 adults, you'll probably have leftovers.)

Only one of my boys liked this, but since my husband keeps talking about eating more beans for dinner, the kids are determined not to.

The mix-in calls for couscous, but I think quinoa would work just as well.

Mangia! Mangia!

Butternut & Bean Soup with Couscous
Inspired by this Good Housekeeping recipe

1 large butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 15 ounce can white beans (like Northern) drained and rinsed
1 15 ounce can chick peans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup raw couscous (or quinoa)
1/4 cup shelled pistachios, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
2 green onions, sliced

Cut the squash to separate the neck from the base. Reserve base for another use. Peel neck of butternut squash and chop into 1/2 inch cubes.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add squash and cover. Cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

In a Dutch oven, add onion and 1 tablespoon oil and cover. Cook for 6 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add chicken broth, thyme and squash. Bring to a boil.

Using a fork, mash the white beans and add to the soup. Add the chick peas and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer.

Prepare the couscous or quinoa according to package directions. Fluff with fork and gently stir in pistachios, cilantro, apricots and green onions.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with couscous mix-in.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Slow Cooker Cuban Steak Stew

Recipes for Ropa Vieja kept popping up in my cooking magazines and recipe emails, so I took it as a sign to make a batch.

This is Cuba's national dish and it comes with a story similar to stone soup (according to an article by Matthew Fairman in Cook's Country magazine).

A poor man trying to feed his family stirs old clothes ('rope vieja') into a pot of broth and says a prayer. A little while later he serves up a stew of beef and vegetables.

This meal is pretty easy to make. Roughly 20 minutes of prep will yield a very flavorful dinner after about 6 hours in the crock pot.

Most recipes recommend serving this stew over rice, but my boys requested mashed potatoes, so that's how we enjoyed it.

Mangia! Mangia!

Slow Cooker Cuban Steak Stew
Inspired by these recipes 

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, peeled, halved and sliced thin
2 red bell peppers, stemmed and seeded and thinly sliced
1/4 cup tomato paste
4 garlic cloves minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 bay leaves
1 2-pound flank steak, cut across the grain into 4 pieces
3/4 cup pitted and sliced green olives (I used Castelvetrano)
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and peppers and cover. Cook until softened and browned in spots, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir a few times.

Push vegetables to the side of pan and add tomato paste, garlic, cumin, oregano and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant -- about 1 minute.

Stir vegetables into tomato paste mixture. Add wine and cook for 2 minutes or until wine evaporates.

Transfer vegetable mixture to slow cooker. Add soy sauce and bay leaves.

Season steak with salt and pepper, then place into slow cooker and cover.

Cook for 6 to 7 hours on low.

When steak breaks apart easily, remove meat to a separate plate and shred with two forks into bite-sized pieces.

Add steak back to slow cooker. Add olives and vinegar.

Stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over rice or mashed potatoes. Egg noodles would be nice, too.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Citrus Salmon with Tarragon Artichokes

Still not sure what to make for your significant other or family tonight? Why not try this heart-healthy meal?

This salmon dinner is full of fresh flavor that makes me think of spring. Instead of the usual dill, I used the cilantro I had on hand. The oranges and lemons brighten and add a little sweetness.

Plus, the main dish looks so pretty.

To me, though, the artichokes and tarragon steal the show. When sautéed together, the flavor combination is simply amazing.

And after eating such a healthy dinner, you won't have to feel guilty about indulging in some Valentine's Day chocolates or dessert.

Mangia! Mangia!

Citrus Salmon with Tarragon Artichokes
Recipe inspired by Costco and Sunkist

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 thinly sliced green onions
Salt and pepper
1 salmon fillet, 2-3 pounds
1-2 Cara Cara oranges, thinly sliced
1-2 lemons, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large foil pan with cooking spray, or line a baking sheet with foil and then coat with cooking spray.

Pat fish dry with paper towels and place skin-side down in pan.

Mix together first 7 ingredients – olive oil through green onions. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spread herb mixture evenly on top of salmon.

Then lay orange and lemon slices on top of herb mixture, slightly overlapping the slices.

Bake for 30 minutes or until salmon easily flakes when checked.

Tarragon Artichokes

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large jar of whole artichoke hearts (about 2 pounds), drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
Salt and pepper

Warm oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add artichokes and saute until just beginning to brown.

Add tarragon and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Continue to cook until artichokes have some darker brown spots.

Serve warm.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Brian's Blackberry Jam Cake With Caramel Icing

Friday was a momentous day in the George family as it marked our last single-digit human birthday. Penny turned 9. It should be noted that doggie Ellie will turn 1 in May.

We celebrated all weekend with food — duck curry at a favorite Thai restaurant on Friday, homemade meatballs and sauce on Saturday, slow cooker Philly cheesesteaks on Super Bowl Sunday. And for dessert: blackberry jam cake with caramel icing.

I'd never heard of a jam cake before, but was intrigued when I saw my friend and former newspaper colleague Brian post about it on Facebook.

Brian's husband was grew up eating jam cakes in Kentucky. But Brian had never heard of them before either. Brian grew up in Virginia, and I'm from Ohio. I found a Southern Living story that explains that this dessert originated in Appalachia when store-bought sugar was scarce and jam was used to sweeten cakes.

Now because I'd never had or seen a jam cake before, I didn't realize that the icing was supposed to be spread all over the cake. Because the cake is to be baked in a tube pan — like angel food cake — I was picturing icing more as a glaze. Consider the picture of my finished cake.

And now Brian's finished cake.

Brian's is prettier, no doubt. But happy to report mine still tasted amazing. Subtly spiced. Not sickeningly sweet despite all the sugar and jam. Even the kids loved it. (Although, Lucy wants me to leave out the raisins next time.)

Y'all try this cake!


Brian's Blackberry Jam Cake
2 cups white sugar
1 cup butter
4 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 pint blackberry jam
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter. Slow add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then, add buttermilk.

In another bowl, sift together flour, salt, soda, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice and cocoa. Add this to the sugar-egg-buttermilk mixture and mix well. Add blackberry jam and combine. Place raisins and nuts in a small bowl and coat with a small amount of flour; add to mixture.

Grease and flour a tube pan. Pour cake batter into pan. Cover pan with a stoneware plate. Place a pan of hot water on the bottom rack in the oven, so the cake will steam as it bakes. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until a straw inserted in the center comes out clean. Frost with caramel icing.

Caramel Icing
1 1-pound box of light brown sugar
1 stick butter
1 cup milk

Combine ingredients in a saucepan. Cook until the soft ball* stage. Beat with an electric mixer until thick. If it gets too thick, add a few drops of milk and stir.

*Soft ball stage is candy-making lingo for 235 degrees, and it will be a major marking on any candy thermometer, Brian explained when I asked. He added: If you don't have a candy thermometer, "the test is something like `drop a little into water. If it forms a soft ball (as opposed to a hard ball, hard crack, etc.), you're good to go."

More from Brian: "Because the temperature is so important, making jam cake frosting is among the more complicated things I do. It will probably take longer than you'd expect for it to reach temperature. But it's really good—sweet but sophisticated, not like Betty Crocker glucose goo." (Sorry, Betty.)

Friday, February 2, 2018

Sweet Potatoes Topped with Spicy Black Beans & Tomatoes

We've all got Super Bowl food traditions. At my house, some combination of nachos, chicken wings, pizza, trays of veggies, cheese and crackers and all sorts of dip usually make an appearance.

Amy's husband loves Crockpot Queso. I think Erin's Pretzel Wrapped Hot Dogs will be a hit with my boys this year.

The dressed-up dogs are going to be on my menu, next to these festive potato boats. These potatoes are full of flavor and low in greasy fat. Combined with black beans, tomatoes, green chilis and spices, they carry all the zesty tastes this food-centric day calls to mind, without the guilt.

Plus, I'm not a fan of chicken wings.

Sadly, my boys are not keen on black beans. I've already served this dish to them and they preferred the potatoes topped with no-bean chili and shredded cheddar instead. (Hence, the pretzel-wrapped hot dogs.)

There are some children who will enjoy this meal. We made a version at a recent Junior League of Peoria Kids in the Kitchen program and a few of our kiddos gobbled them up.

The students inspired some other sweet potato topper ideas, which would be great for a make-your-own sweet potato bar at a party: taco meat and cheese, chili and cheese, marshmallows and mini chocolate chips.

Whatever you whip up for your Super Bowl celebrations, enjoy and Mangia! Mangia!


Sweet Potatoes Topped with Spicy Black Beans & Tomatoes
Inspired by this recipe from and these ideas from Schnucks grocery stores

4 sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean
2 medium-large tomatoes, diced
1 4 ounce can roasted green chili peppers
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For serving: Chopped fresh cilantro, sliced green onions, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream

Note: You can sub in a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes and green chilis for fresh tomatoes and canned chilis

Cook potatoes.

Oven method: Place each potato on a square of aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray, sprinkle with salt and wrap in foil. Bake at 400 degrees for 1 hour or until potatoes are soft.

Microwave method: Prick potatoes with a fork. Place in microwave and cook for 15 minutes or until soft all the way through

In a microwave-safe bow, combine tomatoes, green chilis, beans, garlic, spices and olive oil. Stir to combine. Once potatoes are done, warm bean mixture in microwave for 2-3 minutes.

Split potatoes lengthwise down the middle. Top with 1/2 cup bean mixtures. Sprinkle with cilantro, green onions and cheddar cheese.

One young Kids in the Kitchen chef calls this "dinner dessert potato." She ate 3 of them!