Tangy, Creamy Macaroni Salad…

I realize I’ve sort of been MIA lately, but I have a good excuse – my sweet hubby took off Thursday and Friday to be with me and relax a bit (and wasn’t his timing impeccable? We’ve had nothing but NCAA tournament on for 4 days straight!). We’ve had such a wonderful 4 days together – we cooked together, played games (I’ve almost gotten to the point where I can beat him at Mario Cart…almost), took nice, long walks with Izzy, and he even helped me paint our dining room table! There’s nothing I enjoy more than spending time with my husband (especially when life is SO happy and care-free)!  I just hate that he’s back at work now, and unfortunately, my Spring Break is over as well- it’s back to work tomorrow for me too. :-(

While we were enjoying our free time, we decided it would be nice to grill hamburgers and hot dogs; and one of my favorite things to serve with grilled burgers is macaroni salad. Mmmm! Macaroni salad is just one of those foods that puts me in a good mood. It’s crunchy, creamy, slightly tangy…I just love it! I just sort of “threw” this one together and it was actually one of the best tasting macaroni salads I’ve had! Our favorite part is definitely the little cubes of cheese – we loooove cheese! These measurements are just approximations, so be sure to taste as you go along and add additional seasoning or ingredients as needed to suit your tastes.

Creamy Macaroni Salad

1/2 pound macaroni, cooked, drained and completely cooled.
3 small carrots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1-2 Tablespoons jarred pimento
1/2 cup frozen sweet peas, thawed
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes (we like more cheese, so I ended up using closer to 3/4 cup)
salt and pepper to taste (we like lots of black pepper)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 cup Creamy Italian salad dressing

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Taste for seasoning. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

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Quick, Creamy [Cheater] Bolognese…

Ok, I know this picture is slightly less-than-appetizing (I discovered that no matter what color of plate I tried, this dish just wasn’t very photogenic), but trust me, this sauce is seriously good. And quick. And easy. Got store-bought marinara? Cream cheese? Ground beef??? Then you’ve got creamy bolognese! There’s an “Italian” restaurant in our hometown that my family would eat at practically every Sunday after church. Without fail, I would always order their pasta bolognese (actually not bolognese at all, but it was still really good!); basically, it was a really creamy, slightly spicy meat/mushroom sauce. The other night, while throwing this dish together, I happen to end up with a sauce almost identical to their “bolognese” completely by accident- yay! Oh, and in case you were wondering, this is real bolognese. And it’s good. Really good.

Creamy [Cheater] Bolognese

1 pound lean ground beef
1 jar of your favorite store-bought marinara sauce (I actually used the canned kind)
4 ounces cream cheese
1 small can sliced mushrooms, drained
freshly ground pepper to taste (I like lots!)
pinch Cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 pound pasta, cooked and drained

In a large skillet, brown and drain the beef. Stir in the marinara sauce, mushrooms, black pepper, cayenne pepper and sugar; mix well. Add the cream cheese and stir constantly until it melts into the sauce. Taste for seasoning. Toss with the cooked pasta and serve immediately.

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Just Throw It All In…

Well, here in Texas, all anyone can talk about is the “Great Arctic Blast of 2010″ (ok, so they’re not exactly calling it that…yet) – you’d think a deadly blizzard was on its way or something. A little cold breezes coming our way and we all panic. Yesterday at the store, people were buying up groceries like the apocalypse was coming. We Southerners really tend to overreact when a little bad weather hits, but hey, it usually gets me off work, so I’m not complaining. The point is, no one wants leave their house when the weather is freezing cold and icy like this – so what do you do when dinnertime rolls around and you haven’t got a plan? Raid your pantry and fridge and throw something together! By all means, don’t get out in the “deadly” weather – grab some pasta, canned mushrooms, make a little sauce and go from there. That’s what I did with this pasta, and I have to say, this was some darn tasty pasta!

pasta2

I didn’t measure anything; I just threw stuff in, so bear with me – I haven’t really got a recipe to go by here. Here’s what I did:

I started with these ingredients: one chicken breast, frozen peas, small can of mushrooms, canned chicken broth, spaghetti, heavy cream and parsley.

I started by sauteing my chicken breast in some olive oil, then chopping it into small pieces and setting it aside. In the same pan, I melted some butter (probably 2 or 3 tablespoons), then added a little flour to make a roux. I slowly whisked in a can of chicken broth, then a splash of heavy cream; then seasoned with salt and pepper and added the mushrooms and frozen peas. I cooked my pasta, then tossed everything together (the chicken, pasta and sauce) and topped with some parsley. Voila! Delicious pasta in less than 15 minutes! Simple as that!

If you’ve got the pantry staples on hand (pasta, canned goods, etc), it’s so simple to just throw something together when you don’t want to go to the store (or if the weather is “deadly”). Who knows, you may just invent a new family favorite – I know I did!

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Spaghetti and Meatballs…

Believe it or not, I’m not a huge fan of meatballs in my spaghetti.  Something about them bothers me, but I can’t really explain what it is.  After a few weeks of wanting to try Ina Garten’s marinara recipe, I decided to make some for dinner. Then I thought I might as well throw some meatballs in the mix too, just to see if I could come up with a recipe I liked.  Of course (no surprise whatsoever) Ina’s marinara was totally delicious – I love that she uses red wine! It’s a little tangy and really hearty and thick.  I decided to just wing it on the meatballs – I mixed ground beef with fresh bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, an egg and salt and pepper.  Very simple and straight forward.  And since I hate standing over a skillet turning splattering meatballs every 2 minutes, I just threw them in the oven for about 25 minutes and they came out perfectly!

meatballs1

Hubby and I really enjoyed our spaghetti and meatballs!  Since the sauce is so robust and full of flavor, I didn’t spice the meatballs up too much – I just let the sauce take care of it.  I’ll most definitely be using this marinara recipe again and again…it’ll most likely be my stand-by marinara in the future!  This was a really (really!) yummy dinner – I’m glad I finally found a meatball that I’d actually want to put in my spaghetti!

Meatballs

1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (3 slices white bread ground up in the food processor)
1 egg
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients until combined. Roll meat into 1 1/2-2 inch balls and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes until browned and cooked throughout.

Marinara Sauce
-Ina Garten

1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup good red wine, such as Chianti
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, or plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper. Cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 15 minutes.

*I also added about a tablespoon of brown sugar to add a little sweetness

meatballs2


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Thai Chicken Pasta

No Tuesdays with Dorie this week….honestly, I just didn’t get a chance to make it. Ooops.

BUT – here is a scrumdiddlyumptious pasta dish instead!

We used to go to the Cheesecake Factory a lot and my absolute favorite dish to order was the Thai Chicken Pasta. I’ve made it at home a few times, but I used a bottled peanut sauce, which was pretty good, but I wanted to make a homemade sauce this time. I started just throwing in things that I thought would work together and ended up with a great peanut sauce. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but this was one fantastic pasta (toot, toot!).

Thai Chicken Pasta

For the Peanut Sauce:
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 teaspoons chili paste
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 limes, juiced
1/2 cup hot water
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

For the Pasta:

1/2 a pound thin spaghetti, fully cooked and drained
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast, fully cooked and sliced diagonally (I like to roast mine with olive oil, salt and pepper)
2 carrots, julienned
1 small can water chestnuts, drained
handful chopped peanuts, for garnish
bunch cilantro, chopped

To make the sauce, put all ingredients in a small bowl and mix until well combined. Store in the refrigerator until needed.

Blanch the carrots in boiling water for about 3 minutes, pulling them out while they’re still bright and crisp. Place in a large bowl with the cooked pasta, sliced chicken, water chestnuts, and cilantro. Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss to coat; top with more cilantro and chopped peanuts. Serve and enjoy!

Give this a try soon – you’ll love it!

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My Favorite Spaghetti Sauce…

“…raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and really freaking good spaghetti sauce…” What? It works….

For years now (seriously) I’ve been searching for a meat sauce made with brown sugar. I know it might sound strange, but its good! When I was in college, one of my friends’ roomates made us all spaghetti; and the homemade meat sauce she served over it was sort of sweet. Very memorable, to say the least. So I’ve been trying to find a similar recipe since then – all to no avail. Until now – yippee!!

I was telling my mom about this the other day and she remembered that she had an old recipe for a slightly sweet spaghetti sauce. When she read it off to me I wasn’t totally convinced, but decided to give it a try anyway. Well thank goodness I did, because I have now found my new favorite spaghetti sauce!!! I can finally stop buying the cheap canned kind and adding extra spices to make it semi-decent…I now have my very own go-to meat sauce recipe…Hallelujah! And the great thing is, it makes a ton, so you can freeze half of it for another time – perfect. Now I know this recipe is less than authentic (I’m sure Italians would most definitely turn their noses up at this sauce) – it doesn’t have carrots, celery, onion or anything like that  – but I figure since I’m a tacky American anyway, I might as well make tacky Americanized spaghetti sauce, eh? Enjoy –

Amy’s New Favorite Spaghetti Sauce
2 lbs. ground beef
2 teaspoons garlic powder (or you could chop your own if you really want to)
2 teaspoons brown sugar (mine were more like heaping teaspoons)
1 teaspoon dried oregano (I also added a little dried basil)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste
1 small can tomato paste
2 cans water (this is using the little tomato paste can)
2 cans tomato soup
1 can tomato sauce

In a large stockpot or dutch oven, brown meat and drain grease. Add all other ingredients, mixing well. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 hours. Enjoy! I know I certainly did!

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For My Birthday Boy!!!

Yesterday was my hubby’s birthday and I always make him a very special meal instead of us going to a nice restaurant (its so funny to me that on my birthday, I want to get dressed up and go out for dinner whereas hubby prefers to stay at home and relax on his birthday!) I saw this recipe on Tastespotting.com and knew it was the perfect birthday dinner, because everytime we go to an Italian restaurant, hubby orders the linguine with clam sauce…I knew he’d love this!!

This was so easy…it literally took me minutes to get the sauce done. You know, after making this meal, I have to stop and wonder why I knock myself out every year on some fancy-shmancy, uber complicated recipe…hubby loved this – a lot! He went on and on about how good it was! I almost felt guilty about making such simple dish, but then I thought, “hey, the easier and quicker the meal…the more time for birthday fun!”, which I think hubby was thankful for! Anyway, the bottom line: this dish was awesome, hubby felt special and pampered on his birthday, and I didn’t have to slave away in the kitchen all day. Perfect. Give this one a try!!

Spaghetti with Clam Sauce

-The Food Channel

12 ounces spaghetti, cooked, drained
2 tablespoons butter
4 garlic cloves, minced
2-6 1/2 ounce cans clams, minced, drained, reserve liquid (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon oregano (or 1/2 tablespoon dried)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup reserved clam juice
3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Cook the spaghetti noodles in salted boiling water until done. Drain, set aside.
In large non-stick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add clams and garlic; sauté for 2 minutes.
Add oregano, crushed red pepper and clam juice to skillet and cook 3 minutes or until liquids start to reduce. Add cream to enrich and reduce slightly so that the sauce has a nice coating consistency but isn’t too thick.
Add pasta and Parmesan cheese to skillet and toss.

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Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'…

I typically don’t try new lasagna recipes. I figure, if I’m going to make lasagna, I’m going to use my mom’s recipe – it’s by far the yummiest (same situation with banana bread, banana pudding and pot roast, to name a few – but that’s another post.) But, last week I was having company (two good buddies and fellow opera singers, one of whom was a cook in a really nice restaurant in London for a couple of years), and I wanted to serve an impressive, yet “comforting” meal – and while my mom’s lasagna would have definitely fit the bill, I wanted something a little more unusual and slightly “different”. I flipped through all kinds of cook books, cooking websites, food blogs, and my personal favorite recipe resource – the Nest’s “What’s Cooking” discussion board (love ya, girls!!) and finally found myself thumbing through my “Giada’s Family Dinners” cookbook, pausing to glance at the Lasagna Rolls recipe thinking, “hmmm, spinach…prosciutto…bechamel, all rolled up in pasta….now that’s impressive and different…” I decided lasagna rolls would be perfect!

Needless to say, these were delicious – so delicious in fact, that I made them again only one week later! Its a nice change from your usual meat and cheese lasagna! My dinner guests really enjoyed them – they ate two huge helpings and cleaned their plates! Success!

Lasagna Rolls

-from Giada’s Family Meals by Giada DeLaurentiis

Bechamel Sauce (White Sauce)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg

Lasagna:
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
1 large egg, beaten to blend
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for salting water
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
12 uncooked lasagna noodles
2 cups marinara sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella (about 4 ounces)

To make the sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk. Increase the heat to medium-high. Whisk the sauce until it comes to a simmer and is thick and smooth, about 3 minutes. Whisk the salt, pepper, and nutmeg into the bechamel sauce.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Whisk the ricotta, spinach, 1 cup Parmesan, prosciutto, egg, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl to blend.

Add a tablespoon or 2 of oil to a large pot of boiling salted water. Boil the noodles until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Arrange the noodles in a single layer on a baking sheet to prevent them from sticking.

Butter a 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass baking dish. Pour the bechamel sauce over the bottom of the prepared dish. Lay out 4 lasagna noodles on a work surface, then spread about 3 tablespoons of ricotta mixture evenly over each noodle. Starting at 1 end, roll each noodle like a jelly roll. Lay the lasagna rolls seam side down, without touching, atop the bechamelsauce in the dish. Repeat with the remaining noodles and ricotta mixture. Spoon 1 cup of marinara sauce over the lasagna rolls. Sprinkle the mozzarella and remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the lasagna rolls. Cover tightly with foil. Bake until heated through and the sauce bubbles, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese on top becomes golden, about 15 minutes longer. Let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the remaining marinara sauce in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until hot, and serve alongside.

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Baked Ziti

I don’t have a lot to say about this dish except that it’s delicious!! I’m all about cooking things that don’t take a lot of time to make and require minimal work! I’m a big fan of www.allrecipes.com/, which is where I found this Ziti recipe, and it was definitely tasty! It had never really occurred to me to use sour cream in baked Ziti, but it actually made the dish really creamy and gooey (and who doesn’t love that?!). This one’s definitely a keeper…

Baked Ziti

Adapted from allrecipes.com

1 (16 ounce) package dry ziti pasta
1 pound lean ground beef (I used ground turkey)
1 onion, chopped (I omitted this and used onion powder)
2 (28 ounce) jars spaghetti sauce
6 ounces sliced provolone cheese
6 ounces sliced mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

I also added a clove of minced garlic for a little extra flavor

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.
In a large skillet, brown beef over medium heat. Add onions; saute until tender. Drain off fat and add spaghetti sauce; simmer for about 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
In a lightly greased 2 quart baking dish, place about half of the pasta; top with a layer of provolone and mozzarella cheese slices. Spread on a layer of half the spaghetti sauce mixture and sour cream.
Cover with remaining pasta, cheese and sauce; sprinkle a layer of Parmesan cheese and fresh basil.
Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until cheese and sauce are bubbly; serve.

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