Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creamy Summer Herb & Veggie Pasta

I'm pleasantly surprised to share that my picnic table-top herb and tomato garden is (wait for it)…still thriving!  I rarely manage to keep things alive this long, so i'm feeling pretty proud of myself. 

This week I suddenly found myself with a plethora of perfectly ripe summer tomatoes.  And by plethora, I mean 4.   Since i've already made my all time favorite Tomato-Mozz sandwiches twice (they're just that good), I wanted to switch it up and put together a hearty pasta dish that showcases not only my tomatoes, but also my summer herbs.

This creamy, delicious pasta is easy to put together, and makes the perfect summer dinner.  I started by roasting all of my favorite summer vegetables: squash, zucchini, sweet vidalia onions, and of course my summer tomatoes.  While the veggies were roasting, I blended up an 'almost-pesto' mixture of basil, oregano, lemon zest, walnuts, and olive oil.  After boiling some pasta, I stirred in bit of fresh spinach, the herb mixture and a touch of cream and parmesan. 

The best part about this dish is that it can easily be altered to incorporate any of your favorite seasonal vegetables (corn, asparagus, snow peas).  Just throw in your favorite veggies, choose a pasta shape, and get cooking! 

"Almost Pesto"(measurement's don't need to be exact)
*8 basil leaves
*2 heaping tbsp. fresh oregano
*zest of 1 lemon
*3 tbsp. walnuts
*1/4 c. olive oil
*1 large (or 2 small) garlic cloves
*salt, pepper

*2 zucchini, chopped
*1 yellow squash, chopped
*4 tomatoes, chopped
*1 vidalia onion, chopped
*2 tbsp. olive oil
*salt, pepper

*2/3 lb. orrecchiete pasta (or 2/3 of the box)
*1/3 c. half and half
*1/3 c. parmesan cheese
*2 c. fresh spinach, roughly chopped

To prepare the veggies, preheat the oven to 375.  Place all of the veggies on a cookie sheet and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast for 20-30 minutes, stirring once, or until the veggies are tender.

Prepare the "Almost-Pesto" by combining all ingredients in a food processor and blending until smooth. 

Prepare the pasta according package directions.  Drain, return to the pot, then stir in veggies, half of the pesto mixture, fresh chopped spinach (it will wilt against the heat of the pasta), parmesan, and half and half.  Stir the pasta together, taste, and add more of the pesto mixture to taste (I used almost all of it).  Enjoy! 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sausage & Hash Brown Breakfast Casserole

This weekend was one for the books.  Mike and I (finally) had our Greek wedding - something we had planned to do all along, but kept postponing.  The first time we got married it was in my church, and since it was important to Mike that we get married in his church as well, we agreed to have two ceremonies. 

My handsome Greek groom! 

What made the weekend interesting was the fact that it was actually a triple Greek wedding.  That's right, we shared the alter not only with Mike's brother Greg and his wife Sharon, but also his cousin Samantha and her husband Hess!  It's very important in the Greek religion to be married in the actual church, so since we were all married previously outside of the church we thought we would all catch up at the same time! 

Us three brides are in pink! 
For our second wedding we kept to immediate family only, so it felt more like a church service.  The priest thought it was just about the funniest thing ever - he was loving it! 

My mom and sisters at our post-wedding family dinner.
With my family in town, I wanted make sure I had something prepared (fuel for the big day if you will) for breakfast, but I have to admit - as much as I love house guests, I do not like getting up early to cook!    I'm always experimenting with make-ahead breakfast items, and this casserole is one i'll be making again in the near future. 

This casserole has all of your hot ticket breakfast items in one dish - sausage, hash browns, eggs, and cheese. What could be bad about that?  I assembled the whole thing a day early and popped it in the oven first thing in the morning.  With the help of some pre-shredded hash browns, this is super simple to put together. 

Ingredients (Serves 6):
*1 lb. mild (or hot if you prefer) Italian sausage
*1 tbsp. olive oil
*1 small onion, chopped
*8 oz cheddar cheese, grated
*1 lb. bag shredded hash browns (I like Simply Potatoes in the refrigerator section)
*5 eggs
*1 1/4 c. milk
*salt, pepper

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Remove the sausage from the casing and add to the pan.  Cook the sausage until it's browned all over, using a wooden spoon or potato masher to break it up as it cooks.  Remove the sausage from the pan and set aside in a large mixing bowl.  Add the onion to the pan and cook until lightly browned; add to the sausage. Stir in potatoes and half of the cheese with the sausage mixture.  Add to a casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. 

Whisk together milk and eggs, and season with salt and pepper.  Pour milk mixture over the sausage.  Top with remaining cheese.  If making ahead, cover and refrigerate until ready to bake. 

Preheat oven to 350.  Cover the casserole in aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove cover, increase the temperature to 400, and continue baking for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Cream Puffs

This week, as my pregnant friend Kendra is about to pop, we hosted a baby shower at work.  Since Kendra is having a little girl, I wanted to think of something festive and feminine to contribute.  Of course, what could be more girlie than a delicate little cream puff?! 

Cream puffs are surprisingly easy to whip up, especially if you fill them with whipped cream, as I did, rather than a true pastry cream.  Homemade whipped cream takes all of a minute to prepare, and once you master a basic choux dough, the possibilities are endless.  Choux dough can be used to make profiteroles, eclairs, or even a savory gougere. 

I topped mine with a little glaze so I could easily add pink sprinkles, but you could also serve these up plain.  The surprise inside is what really matters after all!  

Basic Choux Pastry
* 1/2 c. butter
* 1/4 tsp. salt
* 1 c. flour
* 4 eggs

Whipped Cream Filling:

*1.5 c. whipping cream
*2 tsp. vanilla
*2 tbsp. confectioners sugar
*Chilled bowl

Glaze (optional):
*1/2 c. confectioners sugar
*1 tbsp. milk
Sprinkles, for topping

Preheat oven to 400.  In a saucepan, bring butter, salt, and 1 cup of water to a boil over medium heat.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in flour with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to pull away from the side of the pan and form a ball.  Add eggs to the flour mixture one at a time until the mixture is smooth and shiny.

Grease and flour a cookie sheet (or line it with aluminum foil/parchment).  Use a round pastry tip to pipe small mounds of the dough (about the size of a half dollar) onto the sheet.  Wet your finger and gently smooth the tops to keep the peeks from burning.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.  Remove the puffs from the oven and use a small sharp knife to poke a small hole in the side of the puff so the steam can escape.  Turn off the oven and place the puffs back inside for 7 minutes.  Remove and cool on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before filling.

To prepare the filling, add the cream and vanilla to a chilled bowl. Beat on high until soft peaks form.  Sift in the confectioners sugar, then continue to beat until stiff peaks form. 

To fill the cream puffs, add the whipped cream to a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip.  Use the tip to create a small hole in the bottom (and circle around gently) of the puff and slowly fill until you feel a bit of resistance. 

To prepare the glaze, stir together sifted confectioners sugar and milk.  Use a spoon to drizzle the glaze over the cream puffs and top with sprinkles, if desired.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Crock Pot Cheesy Salsa Verde Chicken Chimichangas

I had a really hard time thinking of a suitable name for this cheesy, delicious tortilla concoction. I finally settled up on Crock Pot Cheesy Salsa Verde Chicken Chimichangas - say that five times fast! 

The name, however, doesn't begin to describe the deliciousness - or the simplicity.  The week before last I promised new recipes, but exhaustion has gotten the best of me.  Between growing a tiny human, the heat, a particularly hectic time at work, and a little travel mixed in, I have just been so tired!  Fortunately said tiredness led me to do some crock pot experimentation and I have to tell you, this recipe will become part of my regular rotation. 

I started by simmering chicken breasts with onions, salsa verde, spices, and a little chicken stock.  When I got home from work I shredded it up and stirred in fresh spinach (get those greens guys), cream cheese, and just a touch more salsa verde.  But why stop there?  I rolled it up in a tortilla with a little cheddar cheese (for good measure) and browned it up into a lightened up version of a chimichanga.  Or should I call it a crispy burrito?  We'll stick with chimichanga.  This chicken would also be great in a quesadilla. 

*6 8-inch flour tortillas 
*3 chicken breasts
*1 small onion, chopped
*1/2 c. salsa verde (plus more, if needed)
*1/2 tsp. cumin
*1/2 tsp. garlic powder
*1/2 tsp. salt
*1 c. chicken stock
*2 c. fresh spinach, roughly chopped
*4 oz. cream cheese
*3 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
*Cooking spray

In the crock pot, combine chicken, onion, salsa verde, garlic, cumin, salt, and chicken stock.  Cook on low for 8 hours, then shred with two forks.  Add in cream cheese and spinach, and 2-3t tbsp. more salsa verde if the mixture looks dry.  Cover and continue to cook for 15 minutes, or until cream cheese is easily stirred in.  Stir well to combine. 

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high.  Lay out a flour tortilla on a work surface and scoop about a quarter cup of the chicken mixture into the center.  Top with about a tablespoon of cheddar cheese.  Fold in the sides of the tortilla, then roll it.  Spray entire outside with cooking spray, then lay it seam side down in the pan. Brown on all sides.  Serve with sour cream and more salsa verde.  Enjoy!