Monday, September 15, 2014

Cheesy Baked Pasta with Chicken

Is it just me or is the hour leading up to dinner the most insane part of the day? This is how it looks at my house:

I paw frantically through the cupboards while I wait for a genius meal idea to dawn on me. So far, the front runners are Eggos, Lucky Charms, and ice cream. I'm leaning toward ice cream. Danny decides that although he is 2 years old, he needs to be held while I make dinner. Either I acquiesce and cook (pull out cereal bowls) one-handed or drag him around the kitchen while he hangs on my leg and howls. I pray fervently that the husband will be home early from work. (He won't be.)

Danny is tired, hungry, and cranky. The husband is tired, hungry, and cranky. I am very tired, very hungry, and very cranky.

This is not the time to slay dragons. This is the time to pull a casserole out of the fridge and pop it in the oven. Then you can snuggle with your kid while he watches Thomas the Train. Or read In Touch Weekly. Or have a glass of wine. Or all of the above.

That's why we're making Creamy Baked Pasta with Chicken. Sure it's delicious and cheesy and even healthy, but my favorite part? You can make it ahead of time.

Now about that glass of wine...

Cheesy Baked Pasta with Chicken
Adapted from Gimme Some Oven and this Bacon Mac & Cheese
Serves: 4-6

8 ounces whole wheat penne (or your favorite short pasta)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup milk
3/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Big pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9" square baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.

Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute to get rid of the raw taste. Very slowly whisk in broth and milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce thickens a bit, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in mozzarella and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Stir cooked pasta and chicken into sauce. Pour into prepared baking dish and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until pasta and cheese are golden.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

It has been too long. WAY too long.

I have no good or even interesting explanation for why I haven't posted a recipe for six months. Six long, long months. We moved from Milwaukee to North Carolina and in the midst of packing and unpacking every piece of junk we had acquired in our ten years in the great middle west, I just didn't feel like cooking.

So I didn't.

But I'm back in the kitchen now! And I'm baking zucchini bread. In my humble opinion, this is the best way to use up a bumper crop of zucchini. Don't have a green thumb? Well, you're in good company. Just pick some up at the farmer's market, swing by the grocery store, or, if you're feeling sneaky, slip into your neighbor's backyard under the cover of darkness and pilfer some of theirs. Your secret's safe with me.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread
Makes 2 loaves

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 egg whites
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9" x 5" loaf pans and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, wheat flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together egg, egg whites, brown sugar, granulated sugar, oil, applesauce, and vanilla. Stir in zucchini. Stir in dry ingredients and chocolate chips.

Evenly divide batter between prepared loaf pans. Bake in preheated oven for about 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Shallots

I tend to go through cooking phases. For instance, there was my stir fry phase. I'd make stir fry at least once a week. Pork, chicken, beef... No protein was safe from my skillet. I'd saute slivers of meat with whatever veggies I had on hand and pile it over rice. Et voila. Dinner was served. My stir fry kick went on for too long. One day at dinner I noticed the husband pushing beef & broccoli around his plate. "What's wrong, hon? Don't you like the stir fry?" Always one to be frank, the husband laid it out for me. "It's good, but..." Here he paused, searching for the right words. "I think we've been having a bit too much stir fry."

Apparently weekly stir fry isn't for everyone.

Same situation with pork tenderloin. Since it's delicious, lean, and quick-cooking, I went through a serious pork tenderloin phase. After another honest talk with the husband, I realized I overdid it. So I cut back. And when I made Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Shallots, my judiciousness paid off.

"This is so good!" the husband exclaimed with enthusiasm. "Pork tenderloin is delicious. I really like this."

Is this a sign that I can commence Pork Tenderloin Phase II? I can only hope.

Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Shallots
Adapted from The Chew
Serves: 4

1 (1.25 pound) pork tenderloin
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 apples, peeled and thinly sliced
1 shallot peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/3 cup apple juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season pork with salt and pepper and 1/2 teaspoon Herbes de Provence. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Sear pork until it's browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Remove pork to a plate and cover to keep warm.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and return to medium-high heat. Add apples, shallot, garlic, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon Herbes de Provence. Cook, stirring, until apples and shallot begin to soften and caramelize, about 3 minutes. Add apple juice and cook for 1 minute, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Place reserved pork on top of apples. Roast in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until pork reaches an internal temperature of 135-140 degrees. Remove from oven, tent with foil, and allow pork to rest for 10 minutes, until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Slice pork into medallions and serve with apples and shallots.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Orange Scented Sweet Potatoes with Pecans

I realize that it is March. That I should be posting recipes about lamb and peas and whatever-all-else is seasonally appropriate right now. But you know what? Sweet potatoes were on sale, so that's what we're eating, folks.

Plus it's a whopping 27 degrees as I type this. Spring? I think it's still sweet potato season around here.

This is another throwback recipe. The crunch of pecans elevates these spuds from becoming a boring side dish. And adding a touch of orange zest makes them taste fresh and (dare I say it?) appropriate for Spring.

Orange Scented Sweet Potatoes with Pecans
Originally posted in February 2011

1 large sweet potato
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
Pinch ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped toasted pecans

Poke a few holes in the skin of the sweet potato, then microwave on high power for 8-10 minutes, until it's tender when pierced with a knife. (Flip over halfway through cooking to make sure it cooks evenly.) Allow sweet potato to rest until it's cool enough to handle. Remove peel and mash flesh with a fork. Stir in butter, zest, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Top with pecans.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

My dad tries to avoid tomatoes because they give him headaches. When I was a kid, if my dad was away for dinner, we would have spaghetti smothered with sauce and topped with mozzarella cheese that my mom would melt in the oven. It was special occasion food, and it was so, so good.

Since I grew up and married a wonderful man who also gets headaches from tomatoes, spaghetti continues to be a special occasion meal. Recently my mom came to visit without my dad. And the husband was out of town, too. So us girls got crazy...and we made spaghetti with homemade meat sauce.

It was indeed a special occasion.

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman and

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 pounds ground beef
Salt and pepper
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes*
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
Parmesan cheese rind (optional)
Cooked spaghetti, for serving
Shredded Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high. Add ground beef and cook, stirring, until browned, about 6-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove ground beef and set aside. Drain grease from the pot and return to medium-high.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to now-empty pot. Add onion and salt and pepper to taste. Saute until onion begins to soften, about 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in wine and cook, stirring, until slightly reduced, 1-2 minutes.

Stir in crushed tomatoes, sugar, basil, Italian seasoning, bay leaf, Parmesan cheese rind, and reserved cooked ground beef. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and allow sauce to simmer about 2 hours. Remove Parmesan cheese rind and bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over spaghetti and top with plenty of Parmesan cheese.

*I bet you could use tomato sauce if you wanted to avoid any chunks of tomatoes.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Overnight Oats with Chia Seeds

My mom came to visit, and in addition to helping me wrangle my little man, she introduced me to Kefir. She drinks it every day and expounds on how good it makes her feel. In fact, she likes it so much that she buys it even when she doesn't have a coupon. She says they sell it at Aldi, too. A place where bargains abound.

So we tried Kefir. And it's tasty! It's like liquid-y yogurt, which sounds gross, but tastes good. The website for Lifeway (those are the people that make Kefir) describes it as "a creamy and delicious yogurt-like smoothie the whole family will enjoy." Now that's marketing at its finest.

Kefir made me think about overnight oats. Since it's like yogurt-y milk, I figured it could take the place of the yogurt + milk combination I use to make overnight oats. I stirred in some chia seeds to help thicken everything up and add a healthy punch of omega-3's, and we were in business.

I think my mom and I have solved all of your breakfast dilemmas. Your welcome.

P.S. The makers of Kefir have not in any way sponsored this post. In fact, they have no clue who I am. However, if they chose to send me a lifetime supply of Kefir, I wouldn't turn it away.

P.P.S. Want more Overnight Oats? Check them out here and here (with frozen berries as Bill recommends).

Overnight Oats with Chia Seeds
Serves: 1

1/2 c old-fashioned oats
1 cup strawberry* Kefir (or substitute 1/2 cup yogurt + 1/2 cup milk)
2 teaspoons chia seeds
Maple syrup or honey, to taste
Chopped strawberries, for serving (optional)

Stir together oats, Kefir, chia seeds, and maple syrup. Stir in the fridge overnight. Serve topped with strawberries.

*Feel free to substitute your favorite flavor.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Chicken and Orzo Stew with Lemon

It's a full week into March and there are piles—tall piles—of snow outside my house. It's below freezing and I heard rumors of a "wintry mix" in the weather forecast. I'm ready for Spring. Like, really ready already.

Since the weather's not cooperating, I thought I could at least trick my taste buds into thinking Winter is almost over. This hearty stew warmed my soul on the chilliest of March days, and the bright flavor of lemon added a citrus sparkle that I needed. Although the original recipe called for adding lemon juice straight to the pot, I like the idea of doling out sunny lemon wedges so that each person can add as much as he wants. Plus there's just something so friendly about a bowl of lemon wedges on the table.

I hope you enjoy this stew as much as we did. I also hope Spring comes soon, but I'm not getting my hopes up on that one.

Chicken and Orzo Stew with Lemon
Gently adapted from Foodie Crush
Serves: 6-8

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1/2" pieces
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
6 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/8" thick
2 celery ribs, chopped small
1 small onion, peeled and chopped small
1 leek, trimmed, halved and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 cup orzo
1 lemon, sliced into wedges for serving

Season chicken generously with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour, shaking to remove excess. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high. Add half of chicken and cook until it's golden brown, about 5 minutes, stirring halfway through so it browns evenly. Remove chicken to a plate and repeat with 1 additional tablespoon oil and remaining chicken. Remove the second batch of chicken to the plate and set aside.

And final 1 tablespoon of oil to the now-empty skillet and return to medium heat. Add carrot, celery, and onion. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 4 minutes, until the vegetables are just starting to soften. Add leek, garlic, and tarragon and cook for another 2 minutes.

Stir in chicken broth and water and bring to a simmer. Turn heat down to medium-low and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in reserved chicken and orzo and cook for an additional 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the orzo is tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with lemon wedges.