March 29, 2011

Meatball Pasta Bake

I love to cook and bake.  But I still always look for motivation to get me in the kitchen.   Especially after a long day or even long week at work.  I definitely need to be in that certain mood to make a blog-worthy dinner happen sometimes.   Cooking can be time-consuming and then turn into a chore if you don't have fun or make new recipes regularly.   However,  if I have company over for a small party or just to watch trashy tv shows that definitely helps to get me super excited to whip up something for dinner.   Whether it be a new dish I've wanted to try or a trusty standby that I'm dying to share, you can count on me to put all my effort into it.   This is a perfect dish if you have guests or if you want lunch and dinner for an extra day or two.  

If you make your own pasta sauce, you know it tastes so much better the longer it cooks or has time to mingle with all the ingredients.  If you have the time to prep this a day in advance, it tastes much much better.   If not, don't let that discourage you from trying this recipe out.  It's still tasty either way!   

Meatball Pasta Bake
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 lb pancetta or bacon, chopped
2 - 14oz cans tomatoes, diced (Italian Style) with the liquid
1 tsp oregano or Italian seasoning
1/4 c parsley, chopped
1 lb tube pasta such as penne or rigatoni
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
1 c ricotta
1/3 c parmesan cheese, grated, plus 1/4 c for the top

1 thick slice Italian type bread, crusts removed
1/4 c milk
1 lb Italian sausage, casings removed
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 parmesan cheese, grated
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil

Make the meatballs first, soak the bread in the milk until the milk has been absorbed.  Squeeze the bread dry and crumble into a bowl, together with the sausage, garlic, egg, parmesan and parsley.  Mix well and season with salt and pepper.  Roll into small balls with wet hands.  Heat a oil to a large frying pan over high heat.  Add the meatballs and brown them on all sides, shaking the pan regularly so they brown evenly.  Remove meatballs from pan and set them aside. They won't be completely cooked but that is okay as they will simmer with the sauce and finish cooking.

Combine the oil, garlic and pancetta into the same frying pan and cook over medium-high heat until pancetta or bacon browns, about 5-7 minutes.  Add tomatoes, oregano and parsley.  Bring to a boil, then add meatballs to sauce and simmer over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.   Taste test the sauce.  Add salt and pepper as needed.

At this point you can store the sauce in a sealed container in the fridge overnight until you need.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

Cook the pasta per the directions on the package.  Drain, reserving a 1/4 c of the cooking liquid.  Combine the pasta in a large bowl with the tomato sauce and meatballs, mozzarella, ricotta and 1/4 c of the parmesan.  Add enough of the cooking liquid to moisten everything.

Transfer to a large greased baking dish, sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan and bake for 20 minutes until the top is golden and cheeses are bubbly.  Serves 6-8.

March 20, 2011

Beef Asparagus Stir Fry

Beef Asparagus Stir-Fry
I had some asparagus left over from my tart in a previous post about "Green Grub".    I decided to make a stir-fry for a weeknight dinner.  I was exhausted and ready for the stressful week to end.  I needed something simple and quick.  This dish hit the spot!  So tasty!   I have a soft spot in my heart for any Asian dishes such as stir-fry, noodle bowls, fried rice, etc.  

Asian food may scare a few people away from cooking at home due to the lack of knowledge of any good recipes or they don't like the food at all due to exaggerated stories they've heard about what it's actually made of.  (It's kind of like people that don't want to try sushi because they don't like raw fish.  Obviously assuming sushi is raw fish.  Believe me, I'm not a huge fan of raw fish and the sushi I always get actually contains cooked fish or crab.  Now sashimi is the raw fish so if you don't prefer it, just don't order it.  But there are various types of sushi that I'm sure you'd enjoy.)

I apologize for losing track there.  I just had to clarify for you if you weren't aware.   Moving on. 

If you learn to adapt the recipes to using ingredients you know you enjoy, it's very simple and the dishes are very versatile allowing substitutions to personalize the dish to your tastebuds.  

Beef Asparagus Stir-Fry
1 lb beef sirloin, cut in 1-inch strips
1/2 c teriyaki sauce
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp chili oil
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 lb asparagus spears, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 lb white mushrooms, sliced
2 c cooked white or brown rice

In a medium bowl, whisk the teriyaki sauce, red wine vinegar and chili oil and pepper.   Add the beef strips and stir to cover all the meat in the marinade.   Cover and put in fridge to marinate.

Heat 1 tbsp peanut oil and butter in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat.   Add onions and cook for about 5-7 minutes.   Add mushrooms and garlic and cook for an additional 5-7 minutes until mushrooms start to brown.  Remove from pan to a bowl and set aside.  (you will add it back in to finish off with the rest of the items later)  

Add the remaining 1 tbsp peanut oil to the pan.   Add steak strips and the marinade to the pan.  Cook until browned on all sides.  (3-5 minutes) *If you like spicy, you can add a teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes at this point.  Add the asparagus and the cooked veggies to the pan.  Let it simmer all together for about 8 minutes.  Taste test for flavor and add salt and pepper as needed.   Serve over hot rice.  Enjoy!

March 19, 2011

Festive Treats

I think everyone at work is on a diet because of me.   I bring in treats for them to try new recipes or I just share goodies to celebrate a holiday or birthday.  They hate the temptation, then love when they finally give in.   These cookies were so freakin' easy and tasty!  I brought them in for St. Patrick's Day. I'm glad I left some at home to share with the hubby and have for snacking all weekend.   Try them out!  Be prepared my fellow co-workers... someone's birthday is next Tuesday.  I am whipping up a special treat to celebrate!

Festive St. Patty's Cookies
Shortbread Cookies
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
2 c white chocolate chips
green sugar crystals
crushed pistachios
green food coloring

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.   In a large mixing bowl, add butter and powdered sugar.   Cream together until mixed.  Add vanilla.   Gradually add flour.  Mix well.

You can roll it out onto a lightly floured surface and cut in shapes or use cookie cutters. Or just simply shape a tablespoon of dough into logs or squares.  Leave about 2 inches between each cookie.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheets for about 9-12 minutes or until edges are golden brown.   Cool for 2 minutes on pan and then move cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

You can drizzle or spoon melted chocolate over cookies. Then sprinkle with toppings of your choice.   I spooned white chocolate and sprinkled green sugars or pistachios over mine.  I also colored the white chocolate with green food coloring on some.  Makes about 24 cookies.

March 17, 2011

Green Grub

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Hope you're enjoying green beer or green food today... or better yet, BOTH!  I celebrated early with a small luncheon at a friend's house over the weekend.  It's always nice to get with the girls.   We each made something green.  Everything was tasty and festive!   I made the appy's so I'm sharing my recipes below along with pics of the other dishes.  I feel the Spinach Ricotta Rolls were pretty to look at more than they were tasty.  They were good but very different flavor and texture than I expected.  Check out my additional notes on how to make it better.   My friend E also mentioned the filling could be a good sauce over bowtie pasta.  That would be a quick and tasty dinner.   Good idea E!

The menu consisted of:
Appetizer - Spinach Ricotta Rolls
                   Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart

Main - Spinach Salad
            Ham, Egg & Pea Casserole

Dessert - Key Lime Pie

Spinach Ricotta Rolls by Chrystal
Spinach Ricotta Rolls
1/2 c pistachios (measurement done with shells on)
6 Lasagna Noodles
olive oil
1 tbsp butter, unsalted
1 bundle of fresh spinach
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 c ricotta cheese
1/4 c parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions.   Lay each noodle flat on paper towel or aluminum foil to cool and dry.

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add oil and butter.   When butter is melted, add spinach and saute for about 6-8 minutes or until wilted.  Add garlic and salt.  Cook for another 2 minutes.  Set aside to let cool.

Grind pistachios in a coffee bean grinder or food processor until finely chopped.  Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

Using a blender or food processor, pulse the cooked spinach 2-4 times. In a large bowl, stir together the spinach, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt.

With a rubber spatula, spread about 2 tablespoons of the spinach filling onto each noodle.  With a sharp knife, slice noodle in half lengthwise.  (it's easier to do this before rolling in my opinion) Gently roll up each noodle tightly.  Sprinkle about a teaspoon or so of the ground pistachios.  Repeat for each noodle.   From here you can eat as a cold appetizer or reheat in oven for about 5-7 minutes or 15 sec in microwave and enjoy.  I recommend eating them warm.  **You can also make a casserole out of it. After rolling each noodle, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese in a small casserole dish and bake until cheese is melted.  I may try that version next. 

Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart by Chrystal
Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart
1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed
4 oz goat cheese
1 lb asparagus, trimmed
1 tbsp butter
1 bunch green onions, sliced thin (white and light green parts only)
2 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.   Place asparagus on a baking sheet and drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1-2 pinches of salt and pepper.  Roast in oven for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned.

In a small skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter.  Add sliced green onions and garlic.   Cook about 1 minute until softened.  Set aside to cool.

On a light floured sheet of parchment paper, roll out the pastry sheet to be about a 12-13 inch square.  Transfer parchment and pastry to a baking sheet.    Bake for about 5-7 minutes or until lightly browned.   Then spread goat cheese onto warm dough or place chunks if needed all over the dough in the center, leaving about an inch on the edge.   Place the asparagus spears side by side working from the center out.  Fold the edges of dough over onto the asparagus.   (I forgot to do this and added the asparagus AFTER I had already folded the dough. Mine looks sloppy in my opinion. But to each their own.)  Sprinkle the green onions and garlic over the top.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until pastry is golden brown all over.   Slice into squares with a pizza cutter.  Enjoy!

Spinach Salad by E

Ham, Egg & Pea Casserole by Carole
Key Lime Pie by Carole

March 8, 2011

Stuffed Greek Chicken

You get a real punch in the face from these flavors!  It's a super simple meal and perfect for a weeknight when you get home from work.   If you pay attention to the amount of goodies you stuff your chicken with, it can be a fairly healthy meal as well.   I served over steamed rice but it could be good over orzo or just serve with a side salad or steamed veggie.

2 tbsp olive oil
4 chicken breasts, pounded thin
1/4 c kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 c feta cheese, crumbled
4 sun-dried tomatoes in water or oil, chopped
1/4 tsp dried basil leaves

Stir kalamata olives, feta cheese, tomatoes and basil leaves together in a small bowl.  Sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt and pepper.   Sprinkle with 2 tbsp of filling in the middle of each chicken breast.   Roll up chicken starting with shortest side.  If you need to secure with toothpicks, seal the seams closed so filling doesn't spill out while cooking.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat in large saute pan.  Place chicken in pan and cook covered, until browned and cooked through, 6-8 minutes each side.   Remove chicken from pan to a serving platter and keep warm.  Keep pan on heat and pour 1/2 cup of chicken broth to hot pan and stir using a wooden spoon to scrape up brown bits from bottom of pan. (This also gets a head start on cleaning your pan.)  Then you have a tasty sauce to pour over chicken.    Top with additional filling if you have some left or sprinkle with feta cheese and olives, if preferred.  Enjoy!