Friday, November 22, 2013

Creamy Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta with Chicken Sausage

This was the result of my most recent "dinner on the fly," episodes in my kitchen a couple weeks ago.  While I make a menu most of the time and try to stick to it, things inevitably get in the way (i.e., kids don't eat, go out, bring home pizza, etc.).

I grabbed this spinach and feta chicken sausage on a whim one afternoon of shopping and didn't really intend to use it that same night but ended up doing so because a) it wasn't frozen and b) my husband would be excited I was finally cooking some meat!  My dinners as of late have been pretty meatless.  My kids just aren't eating much these days, so I've been really trying to SIMPLIFY when it comes to dinner.  Now, I'll admit I went out and bought a box of Ramen because I was so fed up with them not eating what I made, but it was reserved only for when I was really desperate.  But they've been eating quesadillas, potatoes, eggs and toast, you know whatever that was at least semi-nutritious, to get by for the time being.

I was really pleased with how this pasta turned out.  It was pretty much finished in the time it took to cook the pasta.  That's a score on a busy weeknight!! It also reminds me of one of my faves, Chicken Milano, but with more Mediterranean flavors rather than Italian. Here's your next dinner on the fly.

Creamy Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta with Chicken Sausage
olive oil
1 package (about 12-16 oz) Spinach and Feta Chicken Sausage (such as Al Fresco brand)
1/4 cup sliced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup white cooking wine (optional)
1 cup half and half or heavy cream
1/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled (can substitute feta)
8 oz. fettuccine or linguine
2 large handfuls of fresh baby spinach, chopped
fresh herbs for garnish
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a large stock pot of salted water to a boil.  Drop pasta and cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a large chef's pan or other pan with high sides, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium high heat.  Slice sausage links on the bias and cook until browned on each side.  Remove to a plate.  Add another drizzle of olive oil, reduce the heat to medium and add the onions.  Saute about 7-10 minutes, until tender and just starting to brown.  Add the garlic at the last minute.  Return sausage to pan.  Add tomatoes, broth and cooking wine and let simmer until tomatoes are tender; about 5-7minutes.  Add cream and heat through then remove from heat.

Drain pasta and add to pan with sausage and cream sauce.  Toss with spinach and goat cheese.  Allow to stand for about 5 minutes, stirring to wilt the spinach and melt the goat cheese a bit. Salt and pepper, to taste.  Top with toasted pine nuts.  Serve warm.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tomato Cobbler with Gruyere Biscuits

When I think of cobbler I think of warm comfort food.  And, I'm sure like many others, I usually associate cobbler with sweet and berries rather than salt and savory.  Well, I was looking for ideas to use up a bunch of cherry tomatoes and this idea totally intrigued me!  While I don't usually like roasted tomatoes, roasted cherry tomatoes, on the other hand, are just delicious!

This is a beautiful cobbler with caramelized onions a splash of balsamic with the sweet warm tomatoes that burst in your mouth and a little hint of heat from some red pepper. The biscuits on top are light and fluffy marbled with creamy Gruyere cheese. This is a perfect dish for a cold night when you're needing some comfort!  It would also be beautiful in little ramekins, as individual portions, as well.

Tomato Cobbler
for the biscuits:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp.  sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese (you could easily substitute Swiss, goat cheese or even blue cheese)
3/4 cup cold buttermilk

For the tomato filling:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 large onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 pounds cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup coarsely chopped basil
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt and coarsely ground black pepper

To make the Biscuits: In a mixing bowl, fitted with a metal blade, pulse together flours, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  Add cold butter and whiz until mixture forms a coarse meal.  Alternately you can cut the butter in with a pastry blender or two knives.  Pour mixture into a regular mixing bowl, toss in shredded cheese and stir to combine.

Create a small well in the center of the flour mixture.  Add buttermilk all at once.  With a fork, quickly bring together the wet and dry ingredients. The dough will be a bit shaggy.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Knead  about 10 times, bringing it together into a disk. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until the filling is assembled.

To make the tomato Filling:  Place rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Add olive oil and butter to a medium saute pan over medium heat.  Add sliced onions and season with salt and pepper.  Cook and brown onions, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, about 18 to 20 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for one minute more.  Remove pan from heat, add balsamic vinegar and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss together clean cherry tomatoes, chopped basil, flour, and red pepper flakes.  Add caramelized onions and toss together until everything is lightly and evenly coated in flour.  Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the tomato and onion filling into an 8-inch or similar baking dish. Place in the oven and bake filling for 25 minutes.

Near the end of the 25 minutes, remove the biscuit dough from the fridge. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out biscuit dough into a 3/4 or 1-inch thickness.  Cut into squares or use a biscuit cutter to make rounds.

Remove the partially cooked filling from the oven and carefully place 6-8 biscuits on top of the tomato filling in the pan.  Brush biscuit tops with buttermilk and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Reshape and re-roll excess biscuit dough to make extra biscuits at another time, or just cook them up on the side.  (The shaped biscuit dough freezes very well.)

Return warm filling and biscuit dough to oven and bake for 17-20 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown and cooked through, and the tomato mixture is bubbling.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes before serving.  Tomato Cobbler is best served warm.  Reheat leftovers under the broiler (watch carefully!)

SOURCE: Joy The Baker

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lemon Chicken and Orzo Soup

Wow,  last week was such a doozie!! Everyone was sick at my house, except my hubby.  My first-grader did not go a day of school and my preschooler missed 2 out of 3 days of her school.  I think I was in my pajamas most of that time, maybe only venturing out three whole times, only once doing my hair and makeup (sorry neighbors who had to see that, just keeping it real for ya!).

After so many days of nursing my sick ones (and my sick self) back to health all I wanted was a big ol' bowl of chicken soup.  Duh, I don't know why I didn't make it in the beginning of the week, then I could have eaten on it that whole time and not had to make a single other thing, haha!

As I stared at my big bag of lemons on the counter I remembered this soup that I had been wanting to make for years.  I mean, like it's been bookmarked in my Cooking Light Cook Book for I don't know how long; I don't know what the heck the hold up was.  

This soup is just as delicious and comforting as it looks and really is a cinch to throw together; even when you're sick!!

Lemon Chicken and Orzo Soup
olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 chicken thighs, skins removed
1/2 cup white cooking wine
6 cups chicken stock
zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 cup orzo pasta
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot, heat a small drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add chicken thighs and cook about 3-4 minutes per side; remove to a plate.  Reduce heat to medium and heat another tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Add onion, carrot and celery.  Cook 5-7 minutes or until onion is tender and translucent.  Add garlic and cook 30-60 seconds.  Add cooking wine and deglaze the pan, letting it cook about a minute or two.

Return chicken back to pot, along with the stock, lemon juice and zest, oregano and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook about 15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.  Remove chicken from pot and bring stock back up to a boil.  Add orzo pasta and cook about 6-8 minutes.

Allow chicken to cool just long enough that it can be handled, then shred it.  Once orzo is finished cooking, add the shredded chicken back in, keeping the soup on the burner until heated through.  Remove soup from burner, take out bay leaf and stir in chopped parsley.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired.

Serve warm.  Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about 5 days.  Soup will thicken upon cooling and the orzo will start soaking up the liquid.  When reheating soup, just add a little extra water.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

I came up with these muffins a few months ago when I was looking for something I could keep on hand for my kids' lunches that was easy, healthy and that they would actually eat.  I figure you add chocolate to anything and they'll eat it right?  Actually these muffins are pretty healthy, full of good fats that my growing kids need and whole grains. I actually really like adding the oats to my muffins and even pancakes because it helps make them light and fluffy.

When I make these I usually do a double batch then throw 2/3 of them in the freezer and just grab them when I'm making lunch in the morning.  I don't even have to defrost them, they're ready to eat by the time lunch rolls around. I've also made them mini, which are even more fun to eat (just make sure to half the bake time).

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup unrefined sugar (I used sucanat)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup Greek yogurt (I always use full fat)
1/2 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 oat flour (I just blend regular oats in my spice grinder or blender)
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini, drained or squeezed of excess water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line muffin tins with muffin liners and set aside.

In mixing bowl, combine oil, sugar, egg, vanilla, yogurt and milk.  Whisk until well incorporated.  (Sometimes if the milk and yogurt are too cold, it will make the coconut oil start solidifying.  In order to avoid this, I sometimes will add the oil last, after I've added the dry ingredients, OR use a more refined olive oil -as opposed to extra virgin-that has little taste.)  Add dry ingredients and stir to combine, then gently fold in the zucchini.

Spoon or scoop batter into prepared muffin pan, dividing the batter evenly.  Muffin wells should be about 3/4 full.  Bake  for 12-15 minutes.  Cool in the pan slightly then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tomato-Basil Bread Pudding

So, about a year ago we took a family vacation to Vegas.  Well, it was more like, my husband went down there to run the Vegas Ragnar and the stipulation was that we could come and hang out while he was racing.  Since I had 3 young children to tote around all by myself most of the time, we didn't really venture out much.  But we had fun hanging in the hotel, in fact my girls still rave about what a blast they had down there.

Whenever I'm on vacation I LOVE to watch Food Network because we don't have cable.  One of the nights I was watching Giada and she made this mouth watering bread pudding.  I jotted down notes furiously (please tell me I'm not the only one who does this!!) and couldn't wait to make it when I got home.

Well, here we are almost exactly a YEAR later and I'm just now getting to it.  But better late than never because this is so delicious!!  I mean, anything with tomatoes and fresh basil and I'm a gonner, but it was pretty spectacular with that artisan bread too.  That's one thing I will suggest.  Don't skimp on the bread, it's one of the things that really make this dish.  If you make this artisan bread, you'll see it couldn't be easier, but if you can't or don't want to I suggest you buy a good quality crusty loaf from a bakery.

 Tomato-Basil Bread Pudding
1 recipe Artisan Bread, day old and cubed (or about 8 oz. of crusty bread)
1/4 cup diced onion
2 gloves garlic, minced
12 oz cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (I forgot to halve mine, oops!)
1 cup fresh basil
5 oz. freshly grated parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
2 cups whole milk
6 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan.  Add bread cubes and set aside.

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, add a couple drizzles of olive oil, then add the onions.  Saute 4-5 minutes, until tender.  Then add the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds.  Add in the tomatoes, season with a little salt and pepper and let cook about 2 minutes, until slightly softened.  Remove from heat.  Add tomatoes, basil and parmesan cheese to bread and toss to combine.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, salt and pepper.  Pour over bread mixture, folding it in gently, where needed.  Sprinkle with extra parmesan, if desired.  You can also let it sit for about a half hour to absorb some of the liquid, but it's not necessary.  Bake for about 40-45 minutes, until custard is set and top is slightly golden.

Cool slightly, cut and serve.

SOURCE: Giada de Laurentiis, via Food Network

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Maple Bacon Pumpkin Risotto

Sorry if you don't like pumpkin because I've got another one for ya!  This one, however, is a savory pumpkin dish that is every bit delicious as just about any pumpkin dessert.

I started making risotto years ago and I just love it.  Although it seems like a fancy and potentially difficult dish, I attest to you, it is not...although you could make it so (mmm brown butter lobster risotto!!). 

This risotto uses simple ingredients (doesn't everyone use pumpkin on a daily basis in the fall?) that when combined, burst with flavor in your mouth!!  Top that with some crispy bacon and you'll be licking the bowl clean.

Maple Bacon Pumpkin Risotto
1/2 lb. bacon
2 cups apple cider
2 cups veggie broth
1 cup water
1  1/2 cups leeks, sliced and rinsed
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups arborio rice (or other short-grain rice)
1 cup white cooking wine
1/4 tsp. fresh nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
few cracks of ground pepper
1 cup pumpkin puree
1-2 tsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
fresh herbs for garnish

Place bacon on baking sheet and cook under broiler 5 minutes.  Flip and bake cook another 4-5 minutes.  Remove from pan to a paper towel-lined plate.

In a medium saucepan, combine apple cider, veggie broth and water.  Heat until warm and keep over very low heat.

In a large saucepan, drizzle about 1-2 tablespoons olive oil.  Add leeks and cook over medium-high heat until tender.  Add garlic, saute about 30 seconds, then add the rice and saute another 30 seconds or so.  Add the wine and cook until almost evaporated.  Reduce heat to medium.  Add about 1/2 cup of the warm broth mixture, stir in and let cook until just about evaporated, stirring occasionally.  Continue until rice is al dente and most or all of the broth mixture is gone (you may not need all of it; if you need more, just add a little warm water)/  This will take about 25-30 minutes.

When rice is finished cooking, add the nutmeg, salt, pepper, pumpkin, maple syrup, butter and parmesan cheese.  Stir to combine well.  Taste to check for seasoning and adjust as necessary.  Garnish with fresh herbs and crumbled bacon.  Serve warm.

SOURCE: Adapted from Pineapple & Coconut

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Apple Cider Glaze

Cinnamon rolls and soup. Yep, that's what I start craving when it starts getting cold and gloomy outside.  I think I've already made cinnamon rolls like four times in the past couple of months!!  Luckily I have great neighbors that are willing to take them off my hands so I don't eat them all!

You probably remember reading last month on my facebook page that I like to try new kinds of cinnamon rolls every October.  Pumpkin rolls definitely AREN'T a new concept but I can't believe I haven't made them until now and let me tell you I may just have to make them again. Soon.

I had some fresh apple cider in the fridge so decided to use that in the glaze but if you don't have any, feel free to use any of the options I listed at the end of the post.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
for the dough:
5 cups flour
1 1/2 Tbsp. yeast
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of cloves
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2-3/4 cup whole milk

for the filling:
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cloves
1 cup chopped pecans, plus more for garnish

for the glaze:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup apple cider (fresh is best)
2-4 Tbsp. whole milk
~ 4 cups powdered sugar
pinch of apple pie spice

To prepare the dough, place flour, yeast, sugar, salt and spices in a mixing bowl fitted with a dough hook.  Pulse to combine.  In a small mixing bowl, whisk together butter, eggs, pumpkin and milk and add to the mixing bowl with the dry ingredients.  Mix on medium speed for about a minute, then check to see if dough looks right (it should be a little sticky, more so than bread, but not incredibly and definitely NOT dry).  Mix for about 5 minutes.  Remove dough and place in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk.

Divide dough in half and roll out into a long rectangle.  Mix together filling ingredients, except pecans.  Spread half of the butter across the dough, leaving about an inch on the upper edge.  Sprinkle half of the filling over the dough and about half a cup of pecans.  Roll dough away from you, stopping at the edge to pull it over towards you and sealing it shut.  Slice into about 1-inch slices either with a knife or a clean piece of floss. Place rolls into prepared pans. Repeat with other half of dough and filling.

*Grease your pans.  Depending on what kind of pans you use and how thick you cut your rolls will determine how many pans you need.  I used 4 9-inch rounds and a lasagna-size tray this time. 

Cover rolls with a light tea towel and allow to rise until almost doubled.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and bake rolls for 13-15 minutes or until lightly golden.

Allow rolls to cool.  Prepare frosting.  Whisk together butter, cider, milk,  pie spice and enough powdered sugar to reach desired consistency; start with 4 cups.  Slather on cooled rolls and garnish with extra chopped pecans, if desired.

*For an alternate frosting, substitute the apple cider for milk, omit the apple pie spice and add either vanilla or maple extract. OR, you could also substitute cream cheese for the butter if you prefer cream cheese frosting.

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