Sunday, July 6, 2014

Cheesy Sausage Pasta Skillet & {One Year} Blogiversary

Happy one year of blogging to me! My first blogiversary just passed on July 1st and I didn't even realize it.  I actually was just typing out a sentence that I have been having writers block all week and couldn't come up with anything to write for this post, and then it dawned on me that I have been blogging for a whole year already! I feel like I should be posting a cake recipe or something to celebrate this event, but I really want to share this recipe instead because it was so delicious!  I actually do have a vanilla cupcake recipe that has been waiting in the wings for awhile....hmmmm...nah I'm going to stick with this one :)

This is a wonderful, easy weeknight meal that is ready in under 30 minutes, and you only have to dirty one pan!  That is always a huge plus in my book, especially when it comes to weeknight cooking.  I was expecting this dinner to be a fairly stick to your ribs, hearty pasta dish with the sausage and cheese combo but it turned out rather light and fresh with all the delicious veggies in there.  Everything just worked really well together and the flavors were very complimentary.  Feel free to change up the vegetable combination or leave out the sausage and switch the chicken stock with vegetable stock if you wanted to go vegetarian with this dish.  The portobello mushrooms have enough of a meaty quality all on their own. The sauce is very creamy and cheesy without being too heavy, just delicious. This recipe makes a lot of food too, so be ready to feed an army of prepare for leftovers, which reheat great, by the way. I hope you enjoy this one as much as we did!

So now for the nerd in me, a few stats for my blogiversary: I have 40 posts, of which 29 are sweets and 11 are savory dishes, I have 42 comments (of which probably at least 35 are my mom, lol), the blog has received an average of 62 page views per day, and my most popular posts are better than sex cake and carrot cake cupcakes with maple cinnamon cream cheese frosting. Even though the blog is definitely still a tiny blip in the sea of amazing food blogs out there, I am very proud of this journey so far and hope to continue on for years to come.  I always find it fun when I want to make one of my favorite recipes and I get to go find it on my own blog!

Cheesy Sausage Pasta Skillet

1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, diced
1 small red or yellow onion, diced
6 baby portobella mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp olive oil
1 lb bulk sweet or hot italian sausage
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups penne pasta (I used mini penne)
4 oz. cream cheese
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
4 green onions, sliced
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half (optional)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp dried or 1 tbsp fresh parsley
salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat a large skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat and add the olive oil, bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, and sausage.  Use a wooden spoon to break the sausage up into small pieces.  Cook, stirring frequently until the sausage is cooked through, starting to brown and the veggies are soft, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Drain off some of the fat from the sausage, if needed.  Add the chicken stock, water, pasta, and seasonings and cook for the recommended cooking time on the pasta package.  Reduce the heat to medium, stir in the cream cheese and parmesan cheese and let the sauce simmer for 1-2 minutes.  The sauce should be thick and coat the pasta well.  Add the green onions and tomatoes just prior to serving.  Top with additional parmesan cheese, if desired.

A few notes:
-Draining the fat off from the sausage may be totally unnecessary.  It will depend entirely on how fatty your sausage blend is.
-Make sure you use real grated parmesan cheese, the stuff in the can won't work for this sauce
-This type of one pot pasta meal, where you cook the pasta right in the liquid that will become the sauce, is very different than cooking pasta in boiling water, draining, and then stirring together with your sauce.  You need to make sure to move the pasta around a lot to avoid a clumpy mess. You also need to monitor the liquid level.  If your liquid is starting to get really low but the pasta is not cooked all the way yet, just add a little more water.
-We actually ate this meal without the tomatoes, since K is a raw tomato hater.  It was excellent without them but they do add a really great pop of color and a little sweetness.  I add some to my lunch leftovers the next day and thought it was good that way too, but they weren't a game changer. So anyways, if you are a tomato fan, add them in. They will cook a little from the heat of the dish, but essentially they are still raw.


Inspired by The Weary Chef

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry season is at its peak right now in New England and the berries are amazing! I am not really a person who has a lot of favorites in life. I like a lot of different things equally and have a hard time picking just one. For example I absolutely love all colors and I really don't prefer one over another. I suppose if I really had to pick I would go with blue, but in general having favorites is not really my thing.  Except for this strawberry shortcake. Oh my goodness, this is the most delicious dessert ever! Fresh, local strawberries are so superior to those giant, flavorless berries you find in the supermarket year round.  The berries are smaller, juicier, sweeter, and just perfect.  

There are so many ways to enjoy these beautiful strawberries, make strawberry ice cream (recipe coming soon), strawberry rhubarb pie or crisp, pavlova, trifle, or in a parfait.  Of course, eating them sunshine warm and ripe, right off the plant isn't a bad way to go either :).  Another great idea is when you make the strawberry mixture for these strawberry shortcakes, double, triple, or quadruple the recipe and separate it into freezer bags to save for the later months of the year when strawberry season has passed.  So like, I mentioned, strawberry shortcake is my favorite dessert, but it has to be just perfect.  I have had many different versions with various types of biscuits, angel food cake, or pound cake, whipped cream, or ice cream and almost all of the time it has been very good, but this particular recipe is the only one that qualifies for favorite status in my book.  The biscuits are tender, sweet, and soak up that red, delicious berry juice beautifully.  The strawberries are perfectly sweet and that tiny hint of balsamic vinegar does something great to enhance the berry flavor.  And of course, the just barely sweet whipped cream brings the whole dessert together and is absolutely amazing.

So now that I have gushed on and on about dessert at 9 a.m. and realllllly wish I had some to eat right now, I am going to change the subject and share a few of my recent flower photographs with you.  I am trying to play with some different editing techniques in my Photoshop Elements software. I am still trying to figure out all the editing tools over a year later, but it is a fun process when I can find the time.  I hope you enjoy these!

Strawberry Shortcake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar 
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cold, cubed butter
1 egg
1/2 cup milk or heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 quart hulled and quartered strawberries
1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
additional sugar

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl.  Use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until small crumbs are formed.  Whisk the egg, milk, and vanilla together in a separate bowl or measuring cup and then combine with the dry mixture.  Mix together with a fork or spoon until almost fully combined and then pour out onto a clean work surface.  Use your hands to bring the dough together in a ball and then flatten into a disc, between 3/4" and 1" tall.  Use a glass or biscuit cutter to cut out biscuits and place on a baking sheet.  Reform any scraps into a disc and continue making biscuits until the dough is gone.  I got 6 biscuits from this recipe.  Sprinkle the tops of the biscuits with white or turbinado sugar.  Bake for 15-17 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.  The biscuits can be stored in an air tight container for 2-3 days. 
Combine the clean, hulled, and quartered strawberries (you can slice them if you prefer) in a bowl and toss with 1-2 teaspoons of sugar depending on how sweet your berries are.  The sugar will help macerate the strawberries and create juice/sauce for the shortcakes.  Sprinkle just a touch of balsamic vinegar on the berries too, if you wish.  You won't taste the vinegar at all, but it really enhances the strawberry flavor.  Let the strawberries macerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Whip the heavy cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Add about 1 tablespoon of sugar and a dash of vanilla and continue to whip until just barely stiff. Be careful not to go too far, or you will have butter. 
To assemble, cut a biscuit in half and top with strawberries and whipped cream! 

Biscuits Inspired by Joy of Baking

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cookie Dough Brownie Truffles

Chocolate chip cookie dough + brownie + creamy chocolate glaze + mini chocolate chips = AMAZING!  These truffles are ridiculously delicious and have been dubbed "heavenly balls of goodness" by the lucky taste testers. If you are a cookie dough fan, you need to make these asap.  For those of you concerned with food safety, don't worry because the dough is egg-free and completely safe to eat in it's raw state.  These truffles would be great if they were just cookie dough alone dipped in chocolate, but these are kicked up by wrapping the cookie dough in rich, chewy brownie and then the whole ball of delicious-ness is dipped in chocolate.  Yum!

For such an awesome treat, I am less than pleased with how boring these photos came out. I seem to be finding myself following a trend of quickly snapping a few pictures before the food I make is devoured.  Our friends that witnessed the photographing of these truffles probably thought I was a crazy person to be moving the umbrella around to shade a corner of the deck so I could try to get pictures of these in nice natural light.  If I had planned better I would have done this ahead of time, but having a two month old does not lend itself well to that kind of thing. :)  I suppose I shouldn't think of this dilemma as a bad thing because it means the food was a hit and there is usually nothing left over to photograph later, but I do usually wish that I had set aside more time to stage a better quality photo for the blog. 

Once I have put the time and effort into making food, there is usually little time available to set up a nice photo shoot.  I find this especially common when I make new meals for dinner that I want to share on the blog.  I hardly ever take the time to snap any pictures at all because we are hungry and excited to get eating!  This is definitely something I need to plan accordingly for because I am hoping to get back into a more regular posting schedule again.  I kind of ended up on a tangent here, but what I meant to say was, the pictures do not do these babies justice!  You seriously need to try these truffles. To borrow my husband's description, as I think it fits them best: "these are intense!"

Cookie Dough Brownie Truffles

3/4 cup softened butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups mini-chocolate chips, divided
9x13 pan of prepared brownies (box mix or homemade)
16 oz chocolate or chocolate bark, melted

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the milk, vanilla, and salt and mix until combined.  Stir in the flour until a stiff dough forms that can be rolled into balls. You might need slightly more or less flour.  Add 1 cup of the chocolate chips and mix well.  Form 1" balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Place the dough balls in the freezer for about 30 minutes until very firm.  Cut the crusty edges off of your prepared, cooled brownies (mmm snack time!) and cut the rest into 1" to 1 1/2" squares.  Press the brownies into flat discs and wrap around the cookie dough balls.  You can pretty easily smoosh the brownie around the cookie dough to cover it evenly.  Place these back in the freezer for another 30 minutes.  If you are using regular chocolate, you should temper it so that it will set on the truffles.  There is lots of information online that can teach you how to temper.  If you are using chocolate bark (sometimes called fake chocolate, almond bark, or candy melts) you can just melt that as is.  Dip each truffle in the melted chocolate and use a fork to help you shake off the excess chocolate.  Place the truffle back on the baking sheet and top with mini chocolate chips.  The truffles should set up at room temperature, but I chilled mine because it was a hot day and I thought they would taste better cool.  If you have any left over (haha!) store in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.   


Inspired by The Domestic Rebel

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Raspberry & Lemon Cream Tart

This is the most delicious light and citrus-y spring/summer time dessert.  Lemon and raspberries are one of those perfect food combinations that were meant to be, like peanut butter and jelly, ketchup and french fries, mashed potatoes and gravy, or american cheese on Cape Cod potato chips.  What's that? You don't put cheese on your chips? Huh, well you are missing out! Anyways, lemon and raspberries both have a tart quality about them, but sweetness in the raspberries balances the tangy-ness of the lemon beautifully.  

I made this lovely tart for our family mother's day dinner and it was just the perfect dessert for the occasion.  The tart shell was tender and buttery and the lemon cream filling was so light and delicious.  The powdered sugar dusted raspberries added exactly the right touch of sweetness that this dessert needed.

As you can see, we didn't waste any time devouring this dessert.  I had to pause eating my slice to snap a side view shot before the rest was scooped up by the lucky few who got seconds. :)  This would be a great dessert for a brunch or even a fancy dinner party too.  You could even make this in mini tart pans or a muffin tin if you wanted to do individual servings. I hope you give this one a try!

By the way, speaking of mother's day, look how big little K is getting!! Almost 11 weeks old already!

Raspberry & Lemon Cream Tart

Pastry Crust
1 cup (2 sticks) cold, diced butter
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp white sugar
1/2 cup ice cold water
Zest of 1 lemon

Place the butter, flour, sugar, and lemon zest in a food processor and pulse until the butter is incorporated into the flour and looks like small pebbles.  Slowly add the ice water with the food processor running, until the dough comes together and starts to pull away from the sides.  You may not need the full amount of water.  Carefully remove the dough from the food processor, form into 2 discs, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.  (If you don't have a food processor, you can use a pastry cutter and wooden spoon to make the dough by hand.) This recipe makes enough for two tart crusts, so pop one in the freezer for another recipe. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Roll  the other disc out to about 1/4" thick and transfer to a tart pan.  Prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork (don't go all the way through), place a piece of foil on the dough and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  This will keep the crust from puffing  up while baking.  Bake for 30 minutes then remove the weights and bake 5-10 more minutes until the crust is lightly golden brown. Let the tart shell cool completely.

Lemon Curd
1/2 cup  freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 eggs
6 tablespoons butter, cubed
pinch of salt, if using unsalted butter

In a medium sauce pot, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, eggs, and egg yolks.  Turn the heat on to medium-low and add the butter.  Whisk constantly until the butter is melted.  Turn the heat up to medium-high and continue to whisk until the mixture thickens to a jelly-like consistency.  Strain the lemon curd into a bowl, cover the surface directly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to cool. 

Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Whip cream to soft peaks and add the sugar and vanilla.  Continue to whip until well combined and slightly stiffer.

2 pints raspberries
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Remove tart shell from the pan and place on a plate or cake stand, if desired.  Spread 1/3 of the lemon curd on the tart shell.  Fold the remaining lemon curd into the whipped cream.  Fill the tart with the lemon cream and top with raspberries.  Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.  


Inspired by Inside a British Mum's Kitchen
Inspired by David Lebovitz (lemon curd)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Grilled Pizza & Homemade Pizza Sauce

I am in love with grilled pizza.  I could definitely eat this at least once a week, every week if it was practical! We first discovered grilled pizza late last fall, right before the winter weather hit and we had been impatiently waiting for the spring weather to make it again. We grill other food all winter long, but pizza is kind of difficult because you end up spreading the sauce, cheese, toppings, etc out all over the place and that is just a pain when there is feet of snow surrounding your grill and deck. 

One of the great things about grilled pizza is you can make them any size you want.  K and I make two medium size pizzas and top each one with our own toppings.  K generally leans towards a "supreme" type pizza, while I like to change it up all the time and do something different. I also LOVE white pizza, so this method of pizza works great for us because he can pile on the sauce and I can just have the butter/garlic crust.  The first time we made these, I put broccoli and chicken on mine and K did pepperoni and mushrooms.  This time we had leftovers from making a pasta pizza casserole, so K put sauteed onions, peppers, and mushrooms plus sausage and turkey pepperoni on his.  I put sausage and fresh tomatoes on mine.  We used a combination of mozzarella and cheddar cheese and finished the pizzas off with a sprinkling of fresh chives.  

The dough gets super crusty and crunchy from the high heat that the grill puts out, but maintains just enough of that chewy pizza quality that I like.  This method is super fast too. Once you have everything prepped, it takes less than 10 minutes to grill the pizzas.  They are a great way to use up odds and ends left over in the fridge too.  Just grab a ball of dough from a local pizza shop or the prepared food section of your grocery store and you are on your way to a fast and fabulous dinner.  I think next time we will try out a chicken barbeque version.  Yum, now I am hungry again just thinking about the possibilities! Let me know what combinations you try.  :)

Grilled Pizza

1 lb pizza dough ball (homemade, from your local pizza place, or store bought)
1 tsp canola oil
2 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup pizza sauce (recipe below, or store bought)
6 oz shredded cheese of your choice
Toppings of your choice

Preheat your grill on the highest heat setting and make sure grill grates are cleaned well. Melt the butter and combine with minced garlic, grate your cheese, and cook your toppings, if necessary.  Divide dough into two pieces and roll each one out or use your hands to stretch the dough out until about 1/8" to 1/4" thick.  Place the pizzas on to something that will be easy to transfer the dough to the grill, like a cutting board or baking sheet.  Brush the side of the pizza that you are going to put face down on the grill with canola oil.  Place the dough, oil side down, directly on the grill grates, turn the heat down to medium high, and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Make sure you have your sauce and toppings all ready and waiting because the next part goes fast.  Use a big spatula or tongs to help you flip the pizza over.  Brush the butter/garlic mixture all over the pizza and then spoon the pizza sauce on evenly.  Leave the sauce off if you want a "white pizza."  Then place toppings and cheese on the pizza.  Don't go overboard with the sauce, cheese, or toppings.  If you put too much stuff on the pizza, the crust could get soggy or the cheese won't completely melt before you burn the bottom of the crust. Close the grill lid to allow the cheese to melt. Cook the second side of the pizza between 4-5 minutes total.   Remove the pizzas from the grill and cut into slices. 

Inspired by Simply Scratch

Homemade Pizza Sauce

28 oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sugar
3-4 leaves fresh basil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Heat a medium sauce pot over medium high heat and add the olive oil.  Saute the onions in the oil for about 5 minutes, until translucent.  Then add the garlic and cook for about a minute.  Add the can of tomatoes including all of the liquid.  Use a potato masher to smoosh the tomatoes into small pieces.  Once the tomatoes are to the consistency that you like, add all of the seasonings and cook for about 10 minutes, until the liquid has reduced slightly.  The sauce can be used immediately or cooled and stored in an air tight container in the refrigerator for about a week.

Inspired by Food Network


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

Breakfast foods are some of my favorite foods.  I love french toast, pancakes, eggs, bacon, and even cereal but during the week, I am definitely a breakfast-on-the-go type person.  I never seem to have the time or effort for putting together something to eat before getting out the door for work, so I tend towards grabbing a granola bar and a piece of fruit as I head out.  I have found a few decent store bought granola bars that I like to eat, but since I love making things from scratch I decided to find a good homemade recipe to try.

My childhood favorite granola bar was the peanut butter chocolate chip Quaker chewy bars, so when I found this copycat recipe I knew this was the one I wanted to try first.  Let me just tell you, these granola bars  mimic the flavor profile and chewy texture of the store bought version very well, but they are about a hundred times better tasting!  The bars are perfectly sweetened with a great balance of peanut butter and chocolate flavors.  The combination of oats, rice krispies, and coconut create exactly the right chewiness that these granola bars should have.  Plus there is always the added benefit of knowing exactly what is in the bars, no preservatives or other unknowns that might come with a store bought product.  I will definitely be making these bars instead of buying them and experimenting with other flavor combinations as well.  

Luckily little K has been snoozing away in his swing while I typed this post out but he has started his waking up routine of growling and peeking his eyes open, so I will quickly wrap this up and end the post with a picture from last week when he was one month old. Ahh, I can't believe more than a month has past by already!   

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

1 2/3 cups rolled oats
1 cup rice krispies cereal 
1 cup sweetened coconut flake
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup peanut butter (creamy or crunchy)
1/2 cup melted butter
1/3 cup honey
1 cup chocolate chips (milk or semisweet)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line a 9x13 inch baking pan with parchment paper and spray with non-stick spray.  Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix very well.  Pour the mixture into the baking pan and press it out into an even layer.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until the edges turn golden brown.  Let the bars cool complete before cutting.  Cut into bars and store in an air tight container or wrap individually in plastic wrap.


Inspired by Yammie's Noshery

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Peanut Butter M&M White Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Before I tell you about these delicious cookie bars, I am super excited to share with you that our baby boy was born on March 28 weighing 7lbs 15oz. He is absolutely perfect and we couldn't be more happy! Of course the sleep deprivation might take awhile to get used to, but it is worth every minute that we get to spend with him.  So blog posts will probably be brief and sporadic for awhile as we get use to our new lifestyle but I will try to squeeze them in during nap times here and there :)

I made these cookies to celebrate baby K's one week old birthday.  With my busy work schedule leading up to his birth and then being out of commission for a little while after he was  born, I was really itching to be in the kitchen again.  I bought these Easter/Spring peanut butter M&Ms as a post-pregnancy craving one afternoon and I knew as soon as I took a bite that I needed to put these in a cookie.  The next time I was at the store I picked up three more bags (that's only slightly embarrassing, right?) so that I could make cookies and have a stash to snack on too!  

The nutty flavor of the browned butter compliments the peanut butter in the M&Ms really nicely and gives the cookies another level of flavor as well.  The white chocolate chips were a happy accident because I realized that I only had a handful of regular chocolate chips left in the pantry half way through making the cookies.  The white chocolate ended up giving the cookies a wonderful creamy sweetness.  The bars are both chewy and crunchy at the same time and are a great time saver for when you are trying to get a fantastic dessert without too much effort.  Definitely make these with regular peanut butter M&Ms during other times of the year when the Easter candy is not available!    

Peanut Butter M&M White Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

1 cup butter, browned
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter M&Ms

In a medium sauce pot melt the butter over medium heat stirring constantly.  The butter will get very foamy and then it will subside. Then the butter will begin to turn a light brown color and have a toasty/nutty fragrance. Turn the heat off as soon as the butter begins to brown because the remaining heat from the pan can make the butter burn if you let it get too browned. Browning the butter will take about 5-7 minutes depending on the strength of your stove.  Let the butter cool for about 15 minutes before continuing with the recipe.

In the same pot, add the sugars to the butter and stir with a wooden spoon until well incorporated.  Stir in the egg and vanilla and then all of the dry ingredients.  Make sure everything is mixed well and then add the white chocolate chips (use regular chocolate if you don't want to use white chips).  Press the cookie dough into a greased 9x13" baking pan and lightly press peanut butter M&Ms evenly all over the top of the dough.  Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes until lightly golden brown on top.  Cool completely and cut into bars before serving.


Inspired by Pale Yellow