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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Eggplant & Caramelized Onion Pasta

We celebrated Parade Day, a.k.a. Leprecon Day, a.k.a Hoboken St. Patrick's Day yesterday.  Keeping the tradition alive, I made Cheesy Hashbrown Casserole and Carbomb Cupcakes which we enjoyed with mimosas and Irish coffee.  We also had green bagels, and casseroles cooked by friends: a French toast casserole and an egg casserole with sausage and sun dried tomatoes.  Both were delicious! The city of Hoboken has tried to quell the early St. Patrick's Day festivities over the past few years, and the streets were noticeably less crowded than years past, but we still hosted a party and had a great time with our friends!

I love eggplant! If we’re out to dinner and there’s eggplant on the menu, KK is willing to bet that’s the dish I’ll order.  And he’s usually right.  In fact, I ended Parade Day with dinner at Cafe Michelina last night and ordered eggplant parm.  As with the Spinach & Eggplant Casserole I made in Hilton Head, the eggplant adds volume and filling-ness (I’ve just made up a word) to this meal.  The original recipe focused on getting the eggplant started before the pasta, but I recommend (and have noted below) you start with the onions, giving them plenty of time to caramelize over medium-low heat.  Slice the onions as thin as you possibly can – using a mandolin works best! I’m really fond of the sherry flavor in caramelized onions, but using little water or vegetable broth instead are both good non-alcoholic substitutes.  If you don’t like the skin of eggplants, you can optionally peel the eggplant before cutting it up and roasting it.  After the individual components of the meal cook separately (pasta, onions, eggplant), the meal comes together quickly by tossing everything into the same pot!

Eggplant & Caramelized Onion Pasta
Adapted from  Alexandra Cooks
Time: 40 minutes
Serves: 2-4

Ingredients
1 large eggplant
Olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried basil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb. pasta such as Gemelli or penne
Sherry or cooking wine
24 oz. jar pasta sauce
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Parmesan cheese, for topping

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 400.

2. Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

3.  Meanwhile, heat 2 tsp olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Season onions lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until caramelized. After about 15 minutes, deglaze the pan with a splash of sherry or cooking wine.  Continue caramelizing for another 10-15 minutes.  Add garlic and basil in the final minute of cooking.

4. As onions cook, cut eggplant into ½ - 1-inch cubes.  Toss lightly with olive oil, then spread in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast in the oven for 25 minutes until the eggplant is lightly browned and tender.

5.  Combine pasta, eggplant, caramelized onions, sauce, and crushed red pepper in the pot used for cooking the pasta.  Stir to combine, and heat until sauce is simmering.  Garnish with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Stuffed Pepper Soup

I think it's quite obvious that, by the increased volume of soup posts I’ve shared over the past few months… I love soup! It’s great for a hearty dinner, and also turns into wonderful leftovers that I can have for lunch at work.  I’m a huge fan of Ziploc Twist 'n Lock containers because I worry less about spillage when I carry leftovers, especially soups, in my purse.  This recipe caught my eye because I really like stuffed peppers (evidenced here and here).  I figured a soup version of stuffed peppers would be a big hit with both of us, and I was right! Better yet, it was really easy to make: cook the meat, combine the remaining ingredients, simmer, and enjoy! It was a little under-seasoned, so I added extra Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper flakes, indicated below, and a lot of black pepper. In lieu of rice, this soup would also work with quinoa or small pasta such as stellini.

Stuffed Pepper Soup
Adapted from Skinny Taste
Time: 40 minutes
Serves: 6-8

Ingredients
2 ½ cups cooked rice
1 lb. lean ground turkey
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
28-oz. can diced tomatoes
15-oz. can tomato sauce
2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp Italian seasoning
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper, to taste

Directions
1. If rice is not cooked yet, prepare rice according to package directions.

2. Season ground turkey with salt and pepper; brown meat in a Dutch oven on high heat, about 5-10 minutes.  Once no longer pink, drain excess fat, reduce heat to medium-low and add peppers, onions and garlic; cook until onion begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

3. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken broth, Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover, and simmer on low for 30 minutes.  Stir in rice, and serve immediately. 


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Creamy Creamless Tomato Soup

Boohoo! The weekend’s warm weather has turned cold and snowy again, and I’ve come down with an awful cold! Feeling under the weather, I left work early yesterday, and I plan to work from home the rest of the week to keep my germs quarantined (I’ll look for my coworkers to thank me later J).  Luckily KK asked me to make soup over the weekend, so the leftovers came in handy today as a comforting lunch for me!

Creamy yet creamless.  You're probably wondering how that works! The health benefits of no cream are somewhat offset by the bread that's used to thicken the soup, but it's definitely a healthier alternative to heavy cream.  The original recipe called for thick sandwich bread, but we had a bag of unopened croutons that we were itching to get rid of.  I can wholeheartedly (after just finishing the leftovers!) confirm that using croutons was a great substitute.  Ours were seasoned with garlic and Italian spices, so they added nice flavoring to the soup.  After much stirring, I was unable to find the bay leaf, so I gave up and blended the soup with my immersion blender.  The bay leaf must've been emulsified, because we never found it! If you don't have an immersion blender, carefully transfer the soup to a standard blender in batches and blend until smooth.  As you can see from my picture, I copied Tracey, and served the soup with mini grilled cheese croutons.  To make them - I toasted up two pieces of bread, coated both sides with a little butter spread, microwaved for 15 seconds with the cheese (this is a KK-mandated step in grilled cheese making as he swears it leads to perfectly melted cheese), then grilled the sandwich on a heated skillet.  I cut the sandwich into 10-15 little pieces, and they were the perfect addition to this soup. Enjoy!

Creamy Creamless Tomato Soup
Adapted from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures
Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients
¼ cup olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
2 (28-oz.) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice
1 Tbsp brown sugar
3 cups small croutons
2 cups chicken broth

Directions
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add onion, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and bay leaf to the pot.  Stirring frequently, sauté until onions are translucent and soft, 3-5 minutes.  Pour in the canned tomatoes and their juices.  Using a wooden spoon or potato masher, break tomatoes into smaller pieces.

2. Stir in brown sugar and croutons; bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.  Stirring occasionally, cook until croutons are soft and begin to break down, 5-8 minutes.  Remove bay leaf.

3. Remove soup from heat, stir in remaining olive oil, and carefully use an immersion blender to puree the soup.  Return soup to the heat; cooking on medium high, stir in chicken broth, and bring to a boil to heat through.  Season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Vegetable Polenta Casserole

After a busy week at work, I headed down to Atlantic City for my friend Leigh's bachelorette (and birthday) party at Harrah's on Friday! We started the evening with margaritas and family style Mexican food at Dos Caminos.  Usually, I prefer Dos Caminos brunch over their dinner, but the variety we got to try with the family-style dinner menu was fantastic.  After dinner, we headed to The Pool After Dark for some dancing.  To clarify - it's the indoor pool area at Harrah's which turns into a club at night, but there is no swimming... just dancing! Much to KK's dismay, I didn't do any gambling, but it was still a really fun night out! Keeping Saturday night a little more low key, KK and I finally watched Captain Phillips which was also excellent!

Since I ate what felt like more than my fair share of Mexican food at Dos Caminos on Friday, KK picked a recipe packed with vegetables for dinner.  KK was also eager to finish an open bag of polenta we've had in the pantry for quite some time.  We didn't finish it this time around, but we loved this dish, so I have a feeling the polenta will be finished in a few weeks.  The original recipe called for a bag of frozen spinach, but we used a box.  I recommend microwaving the spinach for 20 seconds, then breaking it into smaller pieces with a knife before stirring it into the polenta.  The rest of the casserole came together easily.  I seasoned both the polenta and vegetable mix with salt and pepper.  I went a little light on the mozzarella because my 8x8 pan was looking quite full! As usual, KK and I both topped off our individual servings with extra crushed red pepper.  KK thought we'd finish the entire casserole, but it was surprisingly filling, so we have leftovers which I'm already planning to have for lunch this week!

Vegetable Polenta Casserole
Adapted from Budget Bytes
Time: 1 hour
Serves: 4

Ingredients
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup polenta
1 cup water
10 oz. frozen chopped spinach
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 zucchini
1 yellow squash
15-oz. can diced tomatoes
½ tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup shredded mozzarella

Directions
1. Bring chicken broth to a boil in a large Dutch oven or pot.  In a small mixing bowl, stir together polenta and water.  When broth is boiling, pour in polenta/water mix.  Reduce head to medium low and simmer until thickened, 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  After mixture has thickened, add frozen spinach and stir until heated through.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Meanwhile, dice the onion, zucchini, and squash, and mince the garlic.  Combine the onion, garlic, and olive oil in a large skillet; saute over medium heat until the onions soften.  Add zucchini and squash to the skillet and saute for 5 minutes.  Next, add the diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, and crushed red pepper; season with salt and pepper.  Stir skillet mixture to combine and let simmer for 10 minutes.

3. While the skillet mixture simmers, preheat oven to 350.

4. When polenta and spinach mixture is warmed through, pour it into the bottom of a greased 8x8 or 9x9 baking dish.  Cover polenta with vegetable mixture, and top with shredded cheese.

5. Bake casserole for 20-25 minutes, or until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly on top.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Chicken Pesto Pasta

KK and I went skiing with a group of friends at Gore Mountain over the long weekend.  We ducked out of work a tad early on Friday to beat traffic, and had a "romantic" Valentine's Day dinner along the way at Kingston Yards Grill (don't worry, we actually celebrated on Thursday night at our favorite sushi spot - Teak!).  My friend Emily handled most of the cooking, so I strangely did not spend much time in the kitchen over the weekend.  She made eggs, bacon and home-style potatoes for breakfast every day; grilled steaks (chicken for me!) one night, and her family's "Very Good Chicken" the other evening - delicious! We skied on Saturday and Sunday, and spent the evenings sipping wine by the cabin's fireplace.  KK and I had not skied in 3 years, but conditions were great and neither one of us fell! Another highlight of the trip was Emily's Frenchie, Ruby June.  Ruby was definitely in puppy heaven with all the attention she received over the weekend! We decided to make this trip an annual tradition, so I'm already looking forward to a repeat weekend of fun in 2015!

There’s something about pesto that makes a meal feel fancy! Perhaps it's because pesto seems like a step above jarred marinara sauce? Or because it’s easy to whip up homemade pesto (assuming you have a large quantity of fresh basil on hand)? Whatever it is – both KK and I are huge pesto fans.  As with most of my meals, the protein and sauce come together as the pasta cooks.  I like to keep busy while the pasta water boils :) If you have it on hand, this recipe would be perfect with leftover cooked chicken.  If you go that route, throw your refrigerated pre-cooked chicken into the sauce mixture a few minutes before the pasta finishes, allowing enough time for the chicken to warm up completely.  Garnish each serving with more fresh basil, pine nuts, or crushed red pepper.

Chicken Pesto Pasta
Adapted from Make and Takes
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 2-4

Ingredients
8 oz. pasta, such as bowtie or rotini
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 lb. chicken breast, cut into 1-in cubes
¾ cup evaporated milk
¼ cup pesto
¼ cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
1. Cook pasta according to package directions.  Reserve 1 cup pasta water, and set aside cooked pasta.

2. Meanwhile, heat canola oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook chicken until no longer pink inside.  Plate and set aside.

3.  Using the same skillet, bring evaporated milk to a boil on high heat, stirring frequently.  Reduce heat to medium, and let mixture boil and thicken for 4-5 minutes.  Stir in pesto and Parmesan; season with salt and pepper.  Toss in cooked chicken and pasta; stir to combine.  If pasta mixture looks sticky, add some of the reserved pasta water until the sauce reaches a desired consistency.  Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Taco Ranch Chicken Sandwiches

 Thanks to public transportation, I don't typically mind commuting in the snow, but today's commute was absolutely brutal.  The wind gusts were so strong that my umbrella flipped out on me, and the snow hurt as it hit my exposed skin! I keep telling myself this means there will be fresh snow on the ground when KK and I go skiing this weekend (first time in 2+ years) with friends at Gore Mountain.  With all this snow, I should also mention how very thankful I am for the Hunter Boots that I got for my birthday last year (thanks dad!!).  If this is what winters are going to be like from here on out, I need to find a pair of manly snow boots for KK - anyone have any brands they recommend?

I realize this isn’t necessarily one of the healthiest meals I’ve prepared for you, but it is certainly one of the more tasty ones.  KK decided we’d increase the amount of chicken from the original recipe to make each sandwich meatier and more filling.  When assembling the biscuit sandwiches, make sure to leave free a small edge so you have enough space to seal the sandwiches.  I didn’t properly seal one of mine, and some of the filling escaped while the biscuits were cooking.  You can get fancy while sealing the sandwiches by using a fork or even scissors to crimp around the edges, or you can go my route and just close them off with your fingers.  Because we increased the amount of chicken, I was unable to fit all of the filling into the sandwiches, so we just ate the leftover filling on the side.  To reheat any leftovers, cut each sandwich into fourths, microwave for 20 seconds, and then heat in the toaster oven to avoid soggy biscuits.  The dressing will stay fresh for several days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  I liked the combination of ranch dressing and taco seasoning so much that I might start adding it to regular salads as well!

 Taco Ranch Chicken Sandwiches
Adapted from Pillsbury
Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients
Cooking spray
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb. chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 ½ Tbsp taco seasoning, divided
1 ½ cups ranch dressing
1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
1 medium plum tomato, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
16.3 oz. Pillsbury Grands! Homestyle Refrigerated Buttermilk Biscuits
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
Lettuce, for serving

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 375; lightly spray baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Combine chicken, onion, and 1 teaspoon taco seasoning in the skillet.  Cook 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently until chicken is cooked through and onions are soft.  Remove skillet from heat and allow mixture to cool slightly.

3.  Combine ranch dressing and 2 tablespoons taco seasoning in a medium bowl.  Reserve 1 cup of the dressing for dipping in a small bowl.  Add cheese, tomato, garlic, and chicken mixture to the medium bowl.  Stir to coat the mixture with the remaining ranch dressing.

4. Separate dough into 8 biscuits.  Place 4 biscuits onto the prepared baking sheet; use fingers to press each biscuit into a 5-inch round.  Divide the chicken mixture evenly onto the center of each biscuits.  Press remaining 4 biscuits over top of the chicken mixture, pressing the top and bottom edges together firmly to seal the sandwiches.

5. Mix together Parmesan cheese and ⅛ teaspoon taco seasoning in a small bowl.  Rub mixture on top of biscuit sandwiches. 

6. Bake 16-20 minutes until sandwiches are deep golden brown, allowing time for inside of biscuits to cook.  Cool 3-5 minutes prior to serving.  Serve on a bed of lettuce, with dipping sauce on the side.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Strawberry Pretzel Parfait

Last weekend was action packed, this weekend was the same! On Friday, KK and I went out to dinner at La Carbonara, and then headed to a friend's 30th birthday party.  A lot of my friends are turning 30 this year, including me - my 30th is just over a month away! Along with the good company, the party host served my new favorite appetizer - Trader Joe's Mac & Cheese Bites.  We fully embodied the "married couple" persona on Saturday morning by cashing in a Groupon for a discounted BJ's membership.  The apartment is now fully stocked with toilet paper, cleaning supplies, shampoo, conditioner, and 4-lb. bag of candy corn :) We redeemed ourselves Saturday evening by visiting KK's cousin at his new, fancy apartment in Long Island City.  Casa Enrique, which opened only a few months ago, served up some excellent margaritas, guacamole, and enchiladas! Since work's been crazy the past few weeks, I had a little work to get through this afternoon, but now I'm looking forward to the Paprika Chicken KK has on the menu for tonight!

Speaking of candy corn, you probably know that I have a serious sweet tooth.  In a perfect world, I would be able to eat dessert or candy with every single meal.  Instead, I try to ignore my sweet tooth cravings and reserve dessert for special occasions.  I even ask that KK buy ice cream flavors I don’t like (strawberry or mint chocolate chip are his go-to choices) to avoid the temptation.  But sometimes, that just isn’t enough.  Last week, with a little Googling for “easy desserts for two,” I found this wonderfully quick and easy recipe.  Fresh strawberries would probably make this dish even better, but without any on hand, thawing frozen strawberries under warm water did the trick.  Instead of dragging out my food processor, I crushed the pretzels in a plastic bag.  It might have been a little more “manual” labor, but it made cleanup easier and I know KK appreciated that! This dessert is best served immediately, otherwise the pretzels will become soggy.  If the rest of the recipes on Dessert For Two are this easy and delicious, I think it’s quickly going to become one of my favorite blogs!

Strawberry Pretzel Parfait
Adapted from Dessert For Two
Prep time:  25 minutes
Serves: 2

Ingredients
12 strawberries, fresh or frozen, diced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup pretzel mini twists
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
¼ tsp cinnamon
Pinch of allspice
¾ cup sour cream
2 Tbsp brown sugar

Directions
1. Spread strawberries in shallow dish and sprinkle with sugar. Let sit for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, place pretzels in a large Ziploc bag and crush with your hands until pretzels are broken into small pieces.  Alternatively, pulse pretzels in a food processor.  Drizzle the melted butter, cinnamon, and allspice over the crushed pretzels and stir to combine.

3. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and brown sugar, breaking up any large brown sugar clumps.

4. In two serving dishes, layer sour cream, strawberries, and pretzel mixture. Repeat until all ingredients are served.  Enjoy immediately!
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