Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cavatappi with Tomato, Spinach, and Feta

I like to call this an "elegant" pasta salad. It's a little different than the standard cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots and Italian dressing a lot of people think of when they hear 'pasta salad' because it combines a wonderful, garlicky tomato mixture seasoned with fruity olive oil and fresh spinach.

I have made several changes from the original recipe as will see if you click on the link - mostly for convenience and based on what is easier to find in my supermarket. There are a variety of pastas you can use, just make sure to choose one that vaguely resembles a corkscrew. This time I used cavatappi but I also like to use campanelle.

I often make this ahead of time and just add the spinach and feta right before serving, as the directions indicate.

Cavatappi with Tomato, Spinach, and Feta
adapted from Food Network
Makes 10-12 side dish servings

1 pound cavatappi or other corkscrew pasta
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
2 large ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound), diced
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 clove garlic
6-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and diced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
5 ounces baby spinach, rinsed and dried
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Salt and add pasta. Cook to al dente according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Put the onions in a small bowl of cold water.

In a large bowl, combine tomatoes with 1 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Chop the oregano with the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Use the flat side of a chef's knife to mash and smear the mixture into a paste. Sprinkle the garlic mixture over the tomatoes. Drain the onions, pat dry, and add to tomato mixture along with red peppers. Add the vinegar and olive oil and mix to combine. Add the pasta and toss well. Chill for several hours.

Just before serving (or bringing to your get-together) add the baby spinach and feta cheese. Mix gently and season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Creamy Ranch Chicken Pasta

As you can probably tell from my blog posts lately, dinner these days must consist of something fast and easy to put together. I need to be able to make something tasty and somewhat healthy while Abbie is either playing in her bouncer next to me or taking a nap of indeterminate length. This dish fits all of those criteria!

Not a lot of veggies in this dish, I admit, but add a green salad on the side and you have a complete meal. And if you are really pressed for time, use bacon bits (the REAL ones, please) instead of cooking the bacon and just cook the chicken in a little bit of olive oil instead.

Creamy Ranch Chicken Pasta
from Jo's Kitchen
Makes about 4 servings

6 slices bacon
1 - 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons dry ranch mix (you can find this near the salad dressings)
1 1/4 cups milk
8 ounces egg noodles
Parmesan cheese

In a large saute pan, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove from pan and save 2 tablespoons of drippings. Cook chicken in same pan with the drippings until tender and no longer pink, turning to brown.

Sprinkle flour, ranch mix, and milk over chicken. Stir to combine and continue stirring until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir one minute more. Stir in bacon.

Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and add to chicken mixture.

Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Another great, easy recipe from my slow cooker book. The only quibble I have with this one is that you are basically making taco meat before you put everything into the slow cooker, so you need to find time for that. As I was putting this all together, I wondered how 3 hours of cooking would make this even taste any differently, but it really turned out pretty good. The beans and the cheese soup add another layer of taste and texture to the meat.
I couldn't find tostada, or taco shells, at the supermarket the day I went, but I had some corn tortillas in the freezer. As you can see, I placed two in a small ramekin, then baked at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes to crisp them up. They were alright in a jam but I would still recommend buying the shells. And if you can't find the nacho cheese soup (I couldn't), cheddar cheese soup works just fine.
Makes 10 servings

2 pounds lean ground beef
2 (1.25-ounce) envelopes taco seasoning mix
1 (16-ounce) can refried beans
1 (10.75-ounce) can condensed fiesta nacho cheese soup
1 (10 count) package tostada shells
toppings such as shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese, sour cream, etc.

Cook the ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat until browned. Drain off fat, add taco seasoning and cook according to package directions.

Transfer meat to 3 1/2-4 quart slow cooker. Stir in beans and soup.

Cover and cook on low heat setting for 3 to 4 hours or high heat setting for 1 1/2-2 hours. Serve on tostada shells and top with ingredients on choice.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hamburger, Macaroni, and Bean Soup

As you can see by the picture, my attempt at this didn't really result in a soup. I made a big mistake and put the whole pound box of macaroni into the soup instead of just one cup. But I added some more ingredients and it ended up delicious anyway! It was more of a pasta, beef, and bean dish with a light tomato sauce coating everything.

I gave you the original recipe below, but put my changes for the thicker pasta dish in parentheses in case you want to try that version instead. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve with some crusty bread!

Hamburger, Macaroni, and Bean Soup
slightly adapted from The Big Book of Soups & Stews
Makes 6 servings (a lot more)

1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon oil, if needed
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
6 cups beef stock or broth (8 cups)
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce (2 cans)
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni (1 pound)

In a large pot over medium heat, combine meat, onion, garlic and bell pepper. Cook, breaking up meat, until meat is no longer pink and vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add oil if needed to keep from sticking.

Add remaining ingredients and increase heat to high; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until macaroni is tender and flavors are blended, 15-20 minutes.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Peanut Noodles with Shrimp and Veggies

I love getting Pad Thai out at restaurants but have never tried any sort of peanut noodle dish at home. Admittedly, this one isn't very authentic, but it was quick to throw together and tasted good! The original recipe calls for shredded chicken but I had some shrimp to use up so I opted for that instead.

I would also recommend being a little stingy with the cooking water. I added the full cup the recipe calls for and my sauce was a little runny for my taste - I would have rather it coat the noodles a bit more. So just add a little bit at a time until it gets to the consistency you want.

You can cook the shrimp either by sauteeing them for a few minutes in a skillet or throwing them into the pasta the last 3 minutes of cooking.

Peanut Noodles with Shrimp and Veggies
slightly adapted from Stephanie Cooks
Makes about 4 servings

about 18 large shrimp, cooked (or more if you prefer)
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons chile-garlic sauce (you can find this in the Asian section of the supermarket)
8 ounces whole-wheat angel hair
1 (12-ounce) bag frozen Steam Fresh Asian Medley vegetables
red pepper flakes (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, saving one cup of cooking water before draining.

Microwave the frozen vegetables according to package directions.

Whisk the peanut butter, soy sauce, garlic, and chile-garlic sauce together in a large bowl (it will be very sticky). Pour in the cooking water from the pasta and whisk until smooth.

Toss all together to coat. Garnish with red pepper flakes if desired. Serve warm or chilled.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Southwestern Steak Roll-Ups

No picture for this one (trust me, it wouldn't have been pretty anyway!) since it is a messy, yummy slow cooker meal that gets folded into a tortilla. I think I have mentioned before that my theory on the slow cooker is the less ingredients, the better. And this cookbook I have been using lately has a whole section of Five-Ingredient recipes. Perfect! I ask Chuck to pick one out while planning my weekly menu, and everything he has chosen has been great!

The original recipe called for a jalapeno pepper, but I was lazy and didn't want to deal with setting my hands on fire, so I opted for a can of green chilies instead. Use what you like!

Southwestern Steak Roll-Ups
slightly adapted from Cook Once, Eat Twice Slow Cooker Recipes
Makes 4 servings

1 (16-ounce) package frozen pepper stir-fry vegetables (yellow, green, and red peppers and onions)
1 - 1 1/2 pounds beef flank steak
1 (14.5-ounce) can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes, drained (I could only find stewed tomatoes with green peppers and onion)
1 (4.5-ounce) can diced green chilies, drained
2 teaspoons chili powder
8 medium flour tortillas

Place frozen vegetables in a 3 1/2-4 quart slow cooker. Trim fat from steak and if necessary, cut to fit in cooker. Place steak on vegetables in cooker. In medium bowl, stir together tomatoes, green chilies, and chili powder. Pour over steak in cooker.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 7 to 8 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 1/2-4 hours. Remove steak from cooker, shred with two forks, and return to cooker, stirring to coat.

Warm tortillas in microwave (about 15 seconds) and use a slotted spoon to place desired amount of filling in center of each one. Add toppings such as cheese, sour cream, etc. and roll up.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Baked Mozzarella and Tomato Antipasti

This little appetizer was gobbled up almost immediately - it was so simple and delicious! Add that to an almost nonexistent prep time, and I will definitely be adding this to my list of tried-and-true apps.

The pasta sauce plays a large part in the taste of this, so use a homemade one or a good quality store bought. Fresh mozzarella is a must, as well as fresh basil. If you don't have time to make the Parmesan baguette, crackers would do, but it's really worth the effort to toast some little crostini :) This dish is so simple to throw together, I wouldn't recommend making it in advance. I prepped it a few hours before I baked it and the sauce settled a little and left the top kind of watery.

I didn't change anything else from the original recipe so I will link you below. Just keep an eye on the baking time - you may need to leave it in the oven a bit longer than directed to melt the cheese more. Or even turn the broiler on (if you have it in a direct heat-safe dish) at the end for a few minutes. Enjoy!

Baked Mozzarella and Tomato Basil Antipasti