Friday, May 31, 2013

Foodie Penpals: May Reveal

I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the April Foodie Penpals session, so I decided to participate again! As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the thought of receiving my May Foodie Penpals package helped get me through a tough week.  And Haley did not disappoint!

Before I dive into the details of my May package, here's a quick recap of the Foodie Penpals program: you receive a penpal match on the 5th of each month, send out a box filled with foodie treats to your penpal by the 15th, and reveal what treats you received on the last day of the month.  The penpal matches change monthly so you're always sending to and receiving from someone new.  It's set up to be a fun way to meet new food-loving friends while trying new foods.

I was paired with Jennifer over at LiveLearnLoveRun.  Like me, she's a relatively new blogger, so head over to her site, get details about the package I sent her for May FPP, and then add her to your Google Reader (or whatever you've decided to use as a replacement feed reader)!

Now, back to the good stuff! Haley sent me a "Mexican hot" themed box from Arizona.  Here's the scoop on what I received:

Arizona Hot Sauce: We'll have to see how this compares to Sriracha Sauce and Frank's Red Hot.  

Handmade Black Bean & Corn Salsa: Three of KK's favorite things combined in one jar.  What's not to love!?

Pure Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly: A sweet treat hidden within the Mexican hot snacks! With a little Google research, I learned that cactus jelly makes an excellent chicken glaze, but it can also be served on toast or over fresh fruit.

Chili Arbol: Complete a homemade salsa recipe (below), and a warning to wear gloves and avoid touching my eyes when handling the arbol chili peppers.  Yikes!

Mexican Oregano: According to Penzys Spices, Mexican oregano is stronger and less sweet than traditional Mediterranean oregano.  It's flavors go best with dishes that are spicy, hot, and cumin-flavored.

Ass Kickin' Chipotle Popcorn: Cannot wait to try this!!!

Chocolate Bar From Hell: I ripped into this as soon as I finished unpacking the box, and I immediately felt my sinuses open up.  Maybe I should start eating chocolate instead of taking DayQuil!

Hayley also gave me not one, but three recipes:

Haley's Shredded Beef: Awesome slow cooker recipe excellent for tacos, burritos, and quesadillas.

Mexican Rice: Direct from Allrecipes.com with spice upgrades to boring white rice that add flavor and turn up the heat! This will make a perfect side dish with Chicken Enchilada Skillet or even rolled into Chicken and Cheese Taquitos.

Arbol Hot Salsa: This will happen.  Soon.  I really can't wait to try cooking with the chili arbol!

Thank you so much for the fabulous package, Haley! If you're interested in participating in the FPP program, blogger or not, head over to The Lean Green Bean to sign up for the next edition of Foodie Penpals.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

No-Bake Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

The Italian Drunken Noodle leftovers didn't last long - I had them for lunch on Sunday immediately after I posted about them! Delicious! 

The trip down to Philly on Sunday was so easy.  We’d never driven directly from Hoboken to the Swikers, and we were pleasantly surprised when Google Maps said it would take less than 90 minutes to get there! The weather cooperated and we spent most of the afternoon and evening outside, playing cornhole, bocce ball, and even a little guys vs. girls flip cup.  The highlight of the party was the Swiker’s new commercial-grade orange juicer! They served up delicious Orange Crushes with fresh squeezed orange juice in cute mason jars.

We headed into downtown Philly on Monday afternoon for lunch with KK’s friends and their adorable 7-month old baby boy at The Continental.  Stephen Starr did not disappoint - I thoroughly enjoyed my Breakfast Quesadilla, and there was not a crumb left on KK’s plate after he devoured his Continental Cheeseburger.  After lunch, we wanted to spend more time outside, so we did a little window shopping and wandered through Rittenhouse Square and Schuylkill River Park. 

Back in Hoboken, I whipped up dinner while KK made an emergency trip to Home Depot for plumbing parts and a new wrench (the kitchen sink leak is partially under control now).  I grilled up the veggies using my trusty grill pan while the pasta cooked.  Don’t try breaking the lasagna noodles before they’re cooked – I tried with one noodle and was left with uncooked pasta crumbs all over the counter and floor.  Whoops! I laid the cooked noodles on the cutting board and used a knife to slice them into thirds.  After assembling the lasagna portions, plating them, and eating one – KK realized that I’d mistakenly left out the tomato sauce.  Sauce-less dishes are very rare in Apt. 3D, so I decided to continue enjoying the lasagna sans sauce for a change.  KK, on the other hand, topped his second serving with a bit of jar sauce, but said both versions of the lasagna were tasty.

No-Bake Grilled Vegetable Lasagna
Adapted from Good Life Eats
Time: 30 minutes
Serves 2-4

8 lasagna noodles
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup shredded Italian blend cheese
5 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow squash
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup spaghetti sauce
Parsley, for garnish

1. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions.  Drain, lay noodles on a cutting board, and cut each noodle into thirds.

2. In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta, Italian blend cheese, 3 tablespoons olive oil, basil, and crushed red pepper; season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

3. Heat a grill pan on medium-high heat.  Slice zucchini and squash, then toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  When grill has heated, place the slices directly on the grill grates and cook, about 3 minutes each side so the grill marks show.  Remove from grill and toss with balsamic vinegar.  If desired, season with additional salt and pepper.

4.  Layer one piece of noodle, a spoonful of ricotta mixture, zucchini and yellow squash and a drizzle of sauce. Repeat layering twice. Drizzle a little more olive oil on top. Garnish with additional shredded cheese, basil, and parsley.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Italian Drunken Noodles

Happy Memorial Day Weekend! Whilst we're not exactly experiencing summer temperatures, KK and I are still enjoying the long weekend! On Friday, we went to happy hour in NYC for a friend's birthday.  We started with a few beers at Stone Street Tavern, then moved next door to Mad Dog & Beans for margaritas with chips and guac! On Saturday, I ventured to the suburbs of west Jersey with a few girlfriends to visit my old roommate.  It was my first time seeing her "new" place, despite the fact that she moved there a year and a half ago.  We had brunch at 54 Main Bar & Grill - the Power Omelet (spinach, tomato, goat cheese) and home fried potatoes were delicious! For dinner, KK and I cooked up these Drunken Noodles and had movie night with our friend Rach.  We started off with Seeking a Friend For The End of The World, but quickly gave up on that, and switched to The Beach which was much better! The scenery reminded KK and I of our honeymoon in Thailand.  We actually visited the beach where the movie was filmed - Koh Phi Phi Leh!

Today we're taking care of a few things around the apartment, then heading down to Philly to see the Swikers tonight.  On Monday, we're having brunch with KK's friend from high school and their "new" (7 month old) baby who also live in Philly!

Our regular grocery store did not have Pappardelle, and we didn't think this meal would be the same with fettuccine or spaghetti.  Luckily I found a package at Sobsey's Produce and we were quickly back on track! I don't have pre-made Italian seasoning in my spice cabinet, so I improvised by using equal parts of basil, oregano, thyme, and sage.  Surprise, surprise - you'll notice I added crushed red pepper to the ingredient list, too! For the wine, I used V. Sattui Chardonnay, and we paired the meal with the remaining wine from the open bottle.  The pairing was okay.  If you use cooking wine for the dish, I might recommend a sweeter wine for pairing, such as an Albarino or Riesling.

I have a feeling KK and I will be fighting over the leftover portion of this meal!

Italian Drunken Noodles
Adapted from The Cozy Apron 
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4

8 ounces Pappardelle noodles, uncooked
Olive oil
5 spicy Italian chicken sausage links
1 large onion, quartered and sliced thinly
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 red bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
1 orange bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup white wine, such as Chardonnay
28 oz. diced tomatoes with juice
½ tablespoon dried parsley
½ tablespoon dried basil

1. Cook Pappardelle according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

3. Remove casings from chicken sausage, crumble, and add to the pot in small chunks.  Cook sausage, allowing it to brown on each side 3-4 minutes.  Once cooked, use a slotted spoon to remove sausage from pot; plate and set aside.

4. Add sliced onion into the pan with the sausage drippings, and allow them to caramelize until golden, about 5 minutes.  Stir frequently to avoid burning.  Once cooked, season onions with salt and pepper, and add Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper.

5. Stir in sliced bell peppers to pot, and sauté for 2-3 minutes with the onions.  Once peppers are tender, add minced garlic and stir continuously for 30 seconds.  Add white wine and allow to cook until almost completely reduced, about 5 minutes.

6.  Add diced tomatoes and browned chicken sausage back to the pot.  Stir to combine and allow mixture to simmer for 3-4 minutes.

7. Remove pot from heat.  Add 1-2 additional tablespoons olive oil, parsley, basil, and stir in cooked Papparadelle; gently use tongs to toss and combine all ingredients.  Season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Skinny Baked Ziti with Spinach

Back in March, we had the Budnicks over for a pre-Parade Day dinner.  If you think back to the March news headlines, you’ll recall the Catholic cardinals had gathered in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new Pope after Benedict XV stepped down in February.  With March Madness on the brain, Brian had started in-depth research on cardinal candidates, and proposed we recreate the Religious News Service’s Sweet Sistine – me and KK against the Budnicks.  We drew up a bracket, selected numbers for our draft picks, and divided the top 16 candidates between the brackets.  Just two weeks after the bracket was set, the cardinals elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis.  Shockingly, Bergoglio was not in our bracket (how could that be!?), but thankfully we had a tiebreaker rule already in place – we chose fiscal quarters, and whichever month was the new pope’s birth month would determine the winner.  Bergoglio is a December baby which meant the prize was awarded to Brian.   Prize? What prize? The winner was awarded a home-cooked meal paired with a nice bottle of wine.  I’m still wondering if Brian rigged the bracket… it was, after all, his idea to begin with! Nevertheless, I’m always happy to host friends for dinner, and last night the Budnicks cashed in on their prize!

I picked up some fresh salad veggies and an amazing loaf of onion and pepper bread from Sobseys Produce (no leftovers of that!), and served the baked ziti with Wine Garage Pinot Noir.  The baked ziti came together easily; the most arduous step was waiting for the pasta water to boil! My crushed tomatoes were seasoned with basil, so I suggest adding additional herbs to the pot if you’re using unseasoned tomatoes.  I thought the dish could use more tomatoes/sauce, but everyone else in attendance thought it was a good pasta-to-tomato-to-cheese ratio.  Steph “ruined” our healthy meal by bringing over a pint of Eddy’s Caramel Delight Slow Churned ice cream.  At least Slow Churned ice cream has ⅓ fewer calories and ½ the fat than regular ice cream! :D

Skinny Baked Ziti with Spinach
Adapted from Skinny Taste
Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 6-8

12 oz. uncooked pasta, such as ziti or penne
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed
28 oz. crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
8 oz. shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, until al dente. Drain and return to pot.

2. When the pasta water boils, preheat oven to 375°F.  Spray a 9x13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

3. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan (big enough to fit cooked pasta), heat olive oil over medium heat.  Sauté garlic, stirring frequently, 1-2 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and add chopped spinach, crushed tomatoes, oregano, basil, crushed red pepper and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Remove sauce mixture from heat, add pasta to saucepan, and stir to combine.  Add Parmesan cheese, ricotta, and half of the mozzarella.  Mix well then transfer mixture to the baking pan.  Top with remaining mozzarella.

5. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until mozzarella is melted and the edges are lightly browned. Let it cool 5 minutes before serving.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pizza Quesadillas

It’s finally feeling like spring! It was in the 50s/60s earlier this week, but now it’s in the 70s and the weekend weather forecast is shaping up nicely.  As you may have seen on Facebook or Instagram, I caved yesterday and bought my first (of many) iced coffee of the season.  I got a Starbucks gift card during KK’s cousins’ white elephant gift exchange back in December, and I was saving it to quench my iced coffee addiction.  Once the Starbucks card runs out, I have a Dunkin card my old roommate gave me for my birthday this year.  After that – I’m in trouble. Maybe I should investigate making my own iced coffee at home…Does anyone have recommendations on making iced coffee at home, going to the gym, and then enjoying the coffee when you get to work??

Thursday was supposed to be leftovers night, but even the best laid plans change - Tuesday’s cancelled dinner plans meant Tuesday became leftovers night.  Never fear – KK loves the challenge of finding a last-minute dinner recipe with ingredients that we have on hand.   Whilst The Girl Who Ate Everything, a.k.a. Christy, made these easy pizza quesadillas for her kids, KK and I love them too!  Other than the pepperoni, I ignored the quantities in the ingredient list.  Use as much or as little cheese as you want.  We didn't have anything fresh on hand, but you can also get creative with this meal by adding veggies – peppers, onions, mushrooms, anything you can think of! I know it sounds strange from someone who loves tomato sauce as much as I do, but I recommend only a thin layer of marinara sauce on the tortillas.  If you use too much, it will spill onto the skillet and burn.  To make up for the lack of sauce in the quesadillas, you can use extra marinara sauce for dipping! 

P.S. I had a really hard time taking decent a picture of the 'dillas!

Pizza Quesadillas
Adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything
Time: 30 minutes
Serves 2-4

8 tortillas
6 ounces sliced pepperoni
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Marinara sauce
Pam cooking spray

1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and fry the pepperoni until crisp, stirring occasionally.  Transfer crisped pepperoni to a paper towel.  Blot excess oils off pepperoni and wipe skillet clean with paper towels.

2. Spread a thin layer of marinara sauce on each tortilla.  Sprinkle cheese on top of the sauce on half of the tortillas, top with pepperoni, and sprinkle with another layer of cheese.  Place the remaining tortillas on top of the cheese (sauce side in).

3. Reusing the same skillet as before, heat over medium heat.  Once hot, coat skillet with cooking spray and place one quesadilla in the pan.  Cook until cheese is melted and tortillas are crisped, about 2-3 minutes.  Repeat with remaining quesadillas.

4. Slice into quarters (or eighths) and serve with a  small bowl of warm marinara sauce for dipping.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cajun Ranch Chicken Pasta

It’s my first full week on the new job, and of course I came down with a cold on Monday.  On Tuesday, I was planning to have dinner with one of my oldest and best friends who happens to live in Brooklyn (I like to pretend that she followed me from VA to the NYC area :) ), but she was also feeling sick.  Spring is such a horrible time of the year to feel crummy! Luckily, this week has been bearable because I'm looking forward to a number of things coming up this weekend – receiving my May Foodie Penpals package any day now, Xtend Barre Stick class on Friday, which will be followed immediately by game night at Apt. 3D, and a friend’s "30th + 1" birthday party on Saturday night! Who else has exciting things planned for the weekend?

Any type of shaped pasta will work for this meal; KK chose Cellentani.  Although it tastes the same as any other pasta, I really enjoyed the tubular-spiral shape of Cellentani; I’d classify it as a “fun” pasta! With 16 ounces of pasta, we’ll be working through leftovers for a few days, but the pasta-to-sauce ratio was perfect.  For the sauce, use whatever you have on hand - heavy cream, light cream, or evaporated milk.  Once we learned that evaporated milk can be used as a substitute for cream, KK now ensures that there's a can of evaporated milk in the pantry for the weeks when we don't make it to the grocery store.  I used a mix of light cream and evaporated milk because I only had 1 cup of light cream in the fridge.  The absence of heavy cream required a slightly longer cook time and some extra stirring, but the sauce came together perfectly.  Finally, the big batch of homemade Cajun seasoning I whipped up a few weeks ago came in handy last night! It’s almost time to replenish my spice bottle of homemade mix, though I’ll use a tad less salt next time.

A word of caution: I  topped my serving with crushed red pepper, but that wasn't necessary because this dish already has quite a kick to it!!

Cajun Ranch Chicken Pasta

Adapted from Plain Chicken
Serves: 4-6
Time: Marination time + 20 minutes cook time

Marinade Ingredients
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup ranch dressing
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon white sugar

Other Ingredients
1 pound chicken breast, cubed
1 tablespoon olive oil
16 oz pasta, such as Farfalle or Penne
2 1/2 cups light cream or evaporated milk
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Parsley, for garnish

1. In a medium bowl, combine marinade ingredients and let stand for 5 minutes.  Place chicken in a gallon or quart-sized Ziploc bag and cover with the marinade.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours; the longer, the better.

2. When ready to prepare the dish, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

3. As the pasta water boils, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Shake excess marinade off chicken, and place into skillet.  Cook chicken thoroughly, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes.  Plate chicken, and wipe excess marinade and oil from skillet using a paper towel.

4. In a small saucepan, melt butter, then add garlic, cream, Cajun seasoning, and Parmesan cheese. Heat on low, stirring frequently for 5-6 minutes. or until slightly thickened.

5. Using the skillet as a serving dish, place cooked pasta and chicken into the skillet; pour sauce on top and stir to combine.  If desired, garnish with parsley and additional Parmesan cheese.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pasta with Cream Cheese and Ricotta Sauce

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend and a nice Mother’s Day.  Monday means back to work and back to blogging! 3DDinners was a little quiet last week because KK and I were inundated with Baked Ziti and Lightened-Up Cheesy Pastitsio leftovers.  I didn’t even get to cook on Friday, but at least we enjoyed our leftovers with a chilled bottle of Peju Provence.  The wine was absolutely wonderful! I was able to recognize the aromas of red berries in the wine and, using the vocabulary of a wine connoisseur, I described the wine as something that tasted “just like candy.” :) On Saturday, KK and I ventured to Wine Anthology in Clark, NJ, hunting for a bargain on our favorite Spanish wine – 2006 Claraval Garnacha.  I think our next wine-seeking adventure will be for more Peju Provence!

On Saturday evening, KK and I went with his parents to his cousin’s house for a family party.  We hung out with aunts, uncles, cousins, and newborn cousins!  The weather didn’t cooperate (i.e. torrential downpours!) and we were forced to stay inside, but everyone still had a great time! We also enjoyed some fabulous home-cooked Indian food which I will, one day, learn to perfect myself! KK’s brother and sister-in-law stayed with us on Saturday night, and we spent Sunday in NYC.  Our first stop was brunch at Dos Caminos where we were lucky enough to snag a table outside.  We started with a round of prickly pear margaritas and fresh guacamole; for main dishes – I had the breakfast quesadillas and KK had the breakfast tacos.  After a bit of window shopping, we found ourselves at Southwest Porch in Bryant Park.  We sat on the porch swings, enjoyed a few beers, and sporadically met up with one of my friends who lives on the UWS.  She convinced KK and I to watch the Spurs/Golden State game with her at Ainsworth Park.  Although we’d only planned to stay for the first half, KK couldn’t leave until the game ended in OT.

When we finally made it back to Hoboken, I whipped up this quick dinner from How To Simplify.  This hearty, filling dinner was just what KK and I needed as a cold front moved over the east coast on Sunday night.  I reduced the amount of pasta for a few reasons: to reduce the amount of leftovers, to increase the sauce-to-pasta ratio, and because we had a partially used box of pasta that looked perfect for this dish! Since there were already veggies mixed in the pasta, I decided to forgo making a salad.  We cooked up a few pieces of garlic bread instead.  Next time I’ll add more peas, and KK even suggested adding chicken.  I love that he’s starting to think of (somewhat) creative ways to change up recipes! 

Pasta with Cream Cheese and Ricotta Sauce
Adapted from How To Simplify
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4

12 oz. pasta, such as Farfalle or Rotini
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 
1 large onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup frozen peas, thawed 
4 ounces cream cheese
3 tablespoons Ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese 

1. Cook pasta according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Saute onion and carrots for 2-3 minutes.  Pour chicken broth into skillet, bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add thawed peas into the mixture, and continue simmering for 1-2 more minutes.

3. Add cream cheese, Ricotta cheese, and basil to vegetable mixture, and stir until smooth.  Stir in pasta and toss to coat.  Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Crispy Gnocchi Pesto with Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

I love goat cheese.  My mom loved cooking and introduced me to Ina Garten a few years ago.  Her cookbooks include wonderful photography and detailed preparation instructions.  Her recipes range from simple to complex, but they are always delicious.  Although I haven’t made them in some time, my all time favorite recipe with goat cheese is Ina Garten’s Tomato & Goat Cheese Tarts.  Although unrelated to goat cheese, I also love her Italian Wedding Soup – the meatballs are incredible!

KK’s love of goat cheese is nonexistent.  He had an unfortunate food poisoning incident caused by goat cheese in Boston’s North End while in college.  Because of his (somewhat irrational) fear of goat cheese, it is one of the most underutilized ingredients in Apt. 3D’s kitchen.  I was surprised and thrilled to see this Pinterest recipe on this week’s menu.  The ingredient list is simple, as is the preparation. While gnocchi poached in boiling water for a few minutes is a tasty and safe way of preparing it, I urge you to try crisping gnocchi over a hot skillet coated with oil.  The end result is crisp on the outside, but still soft in the middle.  The original recipe called for ½ pint of tomatoes, but I've updated the ingredient list to reflect a full pint – ½ was simply not enough! Depending on your love of goat cheese and/or pesto, you might want to consider reducing the amount of goat cheese.  The 3.5 ounces of cheese almost overpowered the pesto, so even I, extreme-lover-of-goat-cheese, will probably use less cheese next time. But, I assure you, there will most certainly be a next time!

One final thing: my dad one-upped me by informing me he made gnocchi from scratch last week.  I’ll have to try that one day!

Crispy Gnocchi Pesto with Tomatoes and Goat Cheese
Adapted from 1 Cup Awesome
Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 2


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 package (16 oz.) gnocchi
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/3 cup pesto
3.5 oz. goat cheese, crumbled


1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Place gnocchi in a single layer in the skillet and cook, untouched, 3-4 minutes.  One side of the gnocchi will be golden brown and crisp.  Turn and cook, stirring occasionally for another 3-4 minutes, until gnocchi is golden on all sides.

2. Stir in tomatoes and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.

3. Remove skillet from heat.  Stir in pesto and goat cheese.  Serve warm!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cashew Chicken

After the Bike Tour on Sunday, my dad, KK and I strolled through Hoboken's Arts & Music Festival.  Although the vendors are usually the same year after year, it was still nice to meander through the streets and enjoy the sunny weather.  Most importantly, I indulged in a mozzarepa - a fantastic street fair find which sandwiches mozzarella cheese between corn-based patties.  Delicious! We also walked along the Hoboken waterfront and soaked in the great views of NYC.  Instead of making the ~250 mile drive back to VA, my dad stayed with us on Sunday night. I enjoyed the extra time we got to spend together on Sunday night, plus the quick cup of coffee we shared together on Monday morning before he left!  Since we'd had Italian the night before, KK decided we needed an Asian dish for dinner.

I added extra cashews because the original recipe called for 1/2 c, but that just didn't look like enough.  I thought roasting the cashews was overkill, but I was wrong! I don't really know how to describe it, but toasting made the cashews more earthy and nuttier, if that's possible!  I was initially concerned the dish wouldn't be saucy enough, but the water and hoisin sauce, combined with the residual juices from the cooked chicken and vinegar, made just enough sauce.  To feed my dad, KK, and I - we used 1 cup Basmati rice with 2 cups water, and somehow managed to have leftovers.  To top things off (literally), I added a few dashes of Sriracha sauce.

Cashew Chicken

Adapted from Martha Stewart
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4


Basmati rice, for serving
1 cup raw cashews
1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1/4 c water


1. Prepare rice according to package directions.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread cashews on a baking sheet, and cook about 10 minutes, until golden and fragrant.

3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, toss chicken with cornstarch until chicken is coated; season with salt and pepper.

4. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Cook half the chicken, tossing often, until browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

5. Add remaining oil and chicken to skillet and cook for 1 minute.  Add garlic to chicken, and cook until chicken is browned, another 2-3 minutes.  Return first batch of chicken to pan.  Add vinegar and cook until evaporated, about 30 seconds.

6. Add hoisin sauce and water; heat until chicken is cooked through, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.  Stir in rice and cashews.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Baked Ziti with Mini Meatballs

As usual, the weekend has flown by! I hope you had a great weekend.  On Friday, I tried The Cuban with my bride-to-be friend Jess.  It was excellent.  I highly recommend the guacamole with lump crabmeat and plantain chips as an appetizer! My dad arrived on Saturday morning, and we spent part of the day relaxing, part of it doing apartment repairs/maintenance, and, of course, part of it cooking.  In the afternoon, I tried a new bread recipe.  It was delicious, but quite time-consuming.  Next time, I'll either try a new recipe or stick with what I know.  To add to our carb-loading, I made baked ziti for dinner.  More on that later!

Why, you ask, were we carb-loading? My dad and I were preparing for the TD Five Boro Bike Tour! Although my friend Rach and I have done this ride a total of five times, this is the second time riding it with our dads.  The dads are both avid bikers, and they put Rach and I to shame again this year.  32,000 cyclists participate in the ride, as it weaves through 40 miles of car-free roads in all five boroughs of New York City.  As veterans, we decided to skip the waiting at the start of the tour, and ride the first 7 miles up Manhattan's West Side Highway.  We met up with the rest of the tour at the top of Central Park, looped briefly in and out of the Bronx, and down to the Queensboro Bridge.  After cycling through Queens and over the Pulaski bridge into Brooklyn, the tour "ends" with a 3-mile trek over the Verrazano Bridge to a festival in Staten Island.  Although the highs were around 65 degrees F today, it was certainly cold and windy on the bridges! I say the tour "ends" with the Verrazano bridge, but after the festival, there are still 3 miles until the official end at the Staten Island Ferry.  There were a few tough parts along the way, but we made relatively good time and finished in 3:35.

Now that I've thoroughly recapped the weekend, let's get back to the baked ziti! The recipe originally called for ground beef, but as you know from earlier this week - beef isn't my thing, so I used ground chicken.  From the one pound of meat, I made 38 meatballs.  Once cooked, the meatballs plumped up a bit so they weren't exactly bite-sized.  When repeating this recipe, I'll make more, smaller meatballs.  Gonna Want Seconds suggested not rinsing the pasta after draining it.  Apparently this retains the pasta's natural starches which helps the sauce cling better to the pasta.  I followed suit and cannot complain about the results.

Finally, one of my usual complaints about baked ziti is the lack of marinara sauce.  When the casserole bakes, the sauce always seems to be absorbed by the pasta, leaving quite a dry mixture.  Thanks to the TWO jars of sauce in this recipe - that problem no longer persists.  Enjoy!

Baked Ziti with Mini Meatballs
Adapted from Gonna Want Seconds
Serves: 6-8
Time: 1 hour


2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons low-fat milk
3/4 cup Parmesan Romano cheese, grated and divided
1 heaping tablespoon dried parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb. ground chicken
Flour, for dredging
1 lb. uncooked ziti
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 24-oz. jars marinara sauce
3 cups whole milk Ricotta cheese
1/4 cup dried basil
Cooking spray
1-2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

1. In a medium bowl, combine eggs, bread crumbs, milk, 1/2 cup of Parmesan Romano cheese and the parsley to the bowl and mix well.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add chicken and combine until just mixed.  Shape into bite-size meatballs.  Pour flour into a shallow dish.  Roll each meatball in the flour to coat; shake off excess flour.

2. In a large pot, cook pasta according to package directions.  Pasta should be al dente.  Drain pasta in a colander and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When oil is almost smoking, add half of the meatballs to the skillet.  Without moving the meatballs, allow them to cook for about 3 minutes.  Turn meatballs and brown the other side. Continue to cook until meatballs are cooked through.  Set aside to a plate, and 
cook remaining batch of meatballs.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

5. In a large bowl, combine marinara sauce and ricotta cheese.  Add cooked ziti, basil, and meatballs, and toss gently to combine.

6. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray, and cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Pour pasta into 9x13 dish and top with mozzarella and remaining Parmesan Romano cheese.  Place 9x13 dish on top of baking sheet to collect any drippings, and bake until top is golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Lightened-Up Cheesy Pastitsio

KK and I saw Cirque du Soleil – Totem last night at Citi Field.  I didn't get any great pictures during the show because they were strictly enforcing the "no photography" rule, but I got a great picture of Citi Field before the show!

Back to Cirque du Soleil - KK’s parents gave me the tickets as a birthday gift.  They picked tickets for a show in May instead of March to make sure it worked for my schedule.  It was a great belated-birthday treat.  One of my friends from work saw Totem this weekend, and he said it was fantastic.  I could not agree more with his reviews! The was 2.5 hours, but the show was so engaging that the time flew by! Totem's theme was the evolution of mankind, so there were lots of amphibian frogs, apes, scientists and, of course, acrobats! KK's favorite act was two women juggling fabric swatches with their hands and feet, and my favorite was the fixed trapeze duo.  We also both enjoyed the group of five acrobats riding unicycles and tossing/juggling tin bowls around the stage.  I've always left Cirque du Soleil shows grinning so, if the show tour passes through your town, it's something you should definitely experience!

Now, onto what you're really here to read about - the food! I love Kelly's recipes from Eat Yourself Skinny.  One of her aims as a blogger is to make being healthy fun.  And who can resist a lightened-up cheesy dish like this one?! This recipe originally called for ground beef, but that’s not really my thing, so KK defrosted some ground turkey which is much more to my liking.  Make sure to season the turkey (or beef) while sauteing it because there aren't many additional spice elements in the recipe.  It'll be no surprise to regular readers that I also added crushed red pepper for a bit of spice!  Next time I cook this dish, I might increase the amount of diced tomatoes and will try adding bell peppers.

KK and I both enjoyed this meal on Tuesday, and I know we're both looking forward to the leftovers this weekend!

Lightened-Up Cheesy Pastitsio
Adapted from Eat Yourself Skinny
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4-6


8 oz. uncooked pasta, such as rotini or penne
Cooking spray
1 lb. ground turkey
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups fat-free milk
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
6 oz. fat-free cream cheese
3/4 cup shredded fat-free mozzarella cheese
2 teaspoons dried parsley


1. Cook pasta according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and coat pan with cooking spray.  Add turkey to pan, season with salt and pepper.  Saute until browned, about 5 minutes.  Remove turkey from pan and drain fat.

3. Preheat broiler.

4. Wipe pan clean with paper towels and add 1/2 tablespoon of oil to pan.  Saute onion and stir occasionally until golden brown, about 4 minutes.  Add garlic and saute 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add turkey, and stir in milk, tomatoes and cream cheese.  Stir until smooth; bring to a simmer and cook until heated, 2-3 minutes.  Stir in pasta.

5. Coat a 9x13-inch broiler-safe baking dish with cooking spray.  Transfer pasta mixture into the dish,and sprinkle mozzarella evenly over top.  Broil 4 minutes or until cheese golden.  Top with parsley.  Serve immediately!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tortilla Egg Scramble

KK and I both fell victim to public transportation delays on Monday - trains were suspended on all PATH train lines for awhile, and the lines for the ferry from NYC to NJ were the longest I've ever seen them.  Needless to say, we had another unexpected menu change.  Tortilla Egg Scramble takes approximately 10 minutes to cook, so it's the prefect meal for unexpected evening delays.  Although KK loves this meal, he gets a smidge upset at the number of dishes that require washing afterwards.  I usually try to help out with the dishes while cooking, but there's just no time with this one!

Please forgive me if you're one of those people who hates recipes that do not specify exact ingredient quantities.  I promise you, I am one of those people... but try to embrace the ambiguity of this ingredient list.  Add as much or as little hot sauce, cheese, and tortilla chips as you'd like.  Consider adding sour cream (I'm not sure why KK hasn't tried that yet given how much he loves it) or green onions like IGE originally suggests (I omit them from the ingredient list because I never have them on hand).  Get creative! Let me know if you have any ideas for new toppings to this quick and easy weeknight meal!

Tortilla Egg Scramble
Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats
Time: 10 minutes
Serves 2


5 eggs
Hot sauce
Salt and pepper
10 oz. red enchilada sauce
Tortilla chips
Shredded cheddar cheese
1 avocado, sliced

1. In a bowl, whisk together eggs and a few dashes of hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Scramble egg mixture. Add a handful of shredded cheese when the eggs are almost done cooking.

3. While eggs are cooking, warm enchilada sauce and two handfuls of tortilla chips in a saucepan.

4. Serve the warmed sauce and chip mixture into two dinner bowls.  Top with eggs, avocado, salsa, additional cheese, and crushed tortilla chips.
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