Balsamic Mushroom and Leek Penne Pasta

Balsamic Mushroom and Leek Penne Pasta

Yay for Fall!!! Cooler weather, cuter outfits, and a wonderful excuse to start eating heartier dinners. I was all about the salad this summer, and honestly, I’ve been eating the Chopped Thai Salad at least 3 nights a week since I posted it on the blog. It was too hot to really cook this summer and I credit this salad with helping me bounce back to pre-baby weight. Yippee! But now it’s Fall and I’m my normal self, so I can start cooking and eating like my normal self. That means one word. Pasta. I’ve said it before, but pasta is without question my favorite thing to cook and eat. It’s so much more than spaghetti and meatballs. Pasta is a blank canvas for whatever you’re in the mood for. It can be light, rich, loaded with veggies, loaded with cheese, full of protein or completely meatless. It’s basically the best. I love that you can easily find whole-wheat AND gluten-free pastas in your regular grocery store, so it’s not too difficult to amp up the health factor when you want to. I really love whole-wheat pasta. It’s rich and nutty and holds up really well against bold flavors, and this Balsamic Mushroom and Leek Penne is a great example of that.

There are a lot of bold, fall flavors in this pasta. Mushrooms are a quintessential fall ingredient. I love their earthiness and the perfect umami they bring to things. Balsamic vinegar, heavy cream and parmesan cheese melt into an unbelievable sauce that soaks into the ridges of the penne pasta. Throw in some butter-caramlized leeks and shallots and you have yourself a delicious plate of autumnal comfort. If you’re anything like me, you’re breaking out the fall decor this weekend.  This pasta would go great with that! Grab yourself a pumpkin spice latte in the morning, grab a few pumpkins at the farmer’s market, plant some mums in the front yard, take a stroll through a park showcasing the changing leaves, burn a cinnamon candle or twelve, and whip this up as the finale. That sounds like one pretty amazing day to me. Let me know how it goes! 🙂

Happy fall y’all! …And happy cooking!

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Balsamic Mushroom and Leek Penne Pasta

16 oz. whole wheat penne pasta (can use regular if you prefer)
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 leek, trimmed, washed and sliced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Reserve.
2. Heat butter and olive oil over medium high heat until butter is melted. Add leeks and shallot and sauté until beginning to caramelize, about 4 minutes.
3. Add mushrooms and cook until softened, about 4 more minutes.
4. To the mushroom mixture, add balsamic vinegar and heavy cream. Stir until combine and simmer over low heat as it thickens, about 2 minutes.
5. Toss in parmesan cheese and stir. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Top with a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley.
6. Serve.

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Why I’ll Leave the Hummus-Making to my Friends

spinach artichoke hummus

BJ and I have been a part of a wonderful Life Group for more than five years. During that time some of those dear friends have since moved out of state, but we’ve always been really fortunate that the new couples who join in their place are really awesome. We’ve hit the life group jackpot for sure…five solid couples, most with children and the rest with babies on the way. Super fun girls, great guys, and the best part…a bunch of amazing cooks. We eat well every time we’re together and we eat A LOT of hummus. Of the group, half are Armenian and I’ve learned the Armenians know their hummus. They know their food in general. I’ve been introduced to some of the most delicious food because of these sweet friends…

Yalanchi (stuffed vegetarian grape leaves), Cheese Boureg (baked cheese in phyllo dough), Pilaf (my friend Ani still can’t believe I called it Armenian Rice-a-roni), Shish kabobs, Armenian string cheese and Soujouk (Armenian cured meat), and hummus.

Oh yes, the hummus. It’s straight forward enough, right? I mean, we can all make hummus. Combine chickpeas, tahini (ground sesame seed paste), garlic and lemon juice and let it go for a spin in the food processor. Done.  And we’ve all seen the variations…roasted red pepper hummus, roasted garlic hummus, spinach hummus, etc. You’ve seen the hummus trios on restaurant menus, right? So I had the grand idea to whip up my own variation, Spinach-Artichoke Hummus. I thought it would be so smart to take that super fattening, but super delicious dip, and lighten it up a tad.

So I made a traditional hummus and started adding stuff. I added spinach, artichoke hearts, I roasted an entire bulb of garlic, and threw in a handful of parmesan cheese. Ta-da!! Spinach Artichoke Hummus. I was impressed and thought it was quite tasty. BJ came home and asked what I made.

“Hummus!” I answered.

“That’s hummus? It doesn’t taste like hummus.” He argued.

“Well it’s my spin. It’s Spinach-Artichoke Hummus.”

I was annoyed. I didn’t think it would warrant an explanation after he tasted it. Wasn’t it so obvious?

Hummus with pita

He reassured me that it tasted wonderful but maybe not like hummus. I still thought he was wrong and I packed it up to take to the beach where we were meeting our friends Reed and Ani. Ani is Armenian. She’s Armenian and she’s honest.

I proudly whipped out my fresh pita triangles and my hummus. She tasted it. She liked it. Then she called to her husband, “Reed, do you want some dip?”

“Dip??” I asked, “It’s hummus.”

Ani replied thoughtfully, taking care not to offend me, “It’s really good, but I wouldn’t call it hummus. I mean, it has the consistency of hummus…but…is there parmesan cheese in there?”

We laughed and I thanked her for making this blog really easy to write. This blog for Spinach-Artichoke Hummus-like Dip. Whatever you want to call it, call it your snack next time you rent a movie or throw a party. It’s very tasty; full of all of the flavors you love in Spinach-Artichoke Dip, but with half of the fat and calories. It’s a snack you can feel good about. We gobbled it up and I’ll absolutely be making it again soon. Give it a shot and let me know what you think. Hummus…or dip?

Spinach Artichoke Hummus

Spinach-Artichoke Hummus (Dip)

15 oz. chick peas, drained
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini, plus more to taste
1 bulb of garlic
2 cups fresh spinach
1 cup frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the top 1/4 inch of an entire garlic bulb off. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. Wrap in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast for 30 to 45 minutes or until garlic is soft.
  2. To remove garlic cloves, simply squeeze the entire bulb into the bowl of a food processor. Garlic will slide right out, leaving the peels behind.
  3. Add remaining ingredients to the food processor and process. Drizzle in olive oil while the machine is running until it reaches your desired consistency and taste.
  4. Serve with pita chips or raw veggies.

Another Weird Pizza

roastedgrapepizza1_for_web

What can I say, I’m a sucker for a weird pizza. Pizza day, which also happened to be sandwich day, was one of my favorite days of culinary school. Did you know pizza is a sandwich? I didn’t. I suppose it makes total sense really, as a pizza is nothing more than an open-faced sandwich. Interesting, huh? A little pizza/sandwich trivia for your Sunday. Anyway back to weird pizzas…

I believe this will be the fourth pizza to make the blog. I must REALLY like pizza. This is actually kind of news to me, I wouldn’t have pegged myself as a such a pizza-lover. Then again, maybe it’s not the pizza as much as it is all of the fun things you can do with it. Topping options are endless and I always have a lot of fun coming up with new combinations. In the past I’ve raved about my Brussels Sprouts Pita Pizzas and my Meyer Lemon Pizza, and both are out of this world! Save the Brussels until next winter, but definitely put the Meyer Lemon Pizza on your to-eat list ASAP. It’s fun. Add this one to the list as well…Roasted Broccoli and Red Grape Pizza with Ricotta and Pine Nuts. Whoa that’s a lot going on. Too much? No, I don’t think so. Is there ever too much of a good thing?

Roasted Broccoli? Good.

Roasted Grapes? Gooooood. (I can hear you doubting this, but I promise, it is!)

Ricotta cheese and pine nuts? Double good.

Put it all together on a store-bought crust and call it a pizza. I did, and it was yummy! Actually, I made mini pizzas which was even better because everything mini is more fun. Kellan loved it! Truthfully, he just pulled off all of the “broccoli trees” and ate them, but I still consider that a win.

This pizza is a really great meatless meal that will still leave the family feeling satisfied and full. It would also make a fancy little appetizer for your next dinner party or get together…your friends and family will be so impressed, as it’s just as pretty as it is tasty. I hope you’ll try it soon!

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Roasted Broccoli and Red Grape Pizza with Ricotta and Pine Nuts

1 bag broccoli florets
2 cups red seedless grapes
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
salt and pepper, to taste
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, to taste
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
16 oz. part skim ricotta cheese
3 mini Boboli pizza crusts or 2 regular size

  1. Preheat the oven to 425.
  2. On one sheet pan, drizzle broccoli florets with extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. On another sheet pan, drizzle the grapes with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
  3. Add the broccoli to the oven and roast until it starts to char, 20-25 minutes. When there are approximately 10 minutes left for the broccoli, add the sheet pan of grapes to the oven and roast until they start to wither and burst.
  4. Meanwhile, spread the ricotta over the pizza crust(s) in an even layer, leaving a 1/2 inch around the border.
  5. Remove broccoli and grapes from the oven. Toss broccoli with the lemon zest. Top pizzas evenly with the broccoli, grapes and pine nuts. Bake for approximately 5 minutes to warm cheese and crust.
  6. Slice and serve.

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Chopped Thai Salad with Kale, Basil and Peppers

thaipeppersalad

It’s another pretty salad, and this time of year, you’ve got to love another pretty salad. It’s swimsuit season, people! Time to put the pasta away and focus on some veggies. At least for a week. A few days. Ok maybe just once. Well whatever you decide, it’s time for me to focus on veggies. Eight weeks ago I had a baby in my belly, and now that she’s outta there, I have to get healthy. Healthy is the key. I’m also extremely excited to start exercising again. Really exercising. I went back to yoga this weekend and went for my first run today. It was awesome…and embarrassing. I was feeling so good! My favorite song was playing, the air was crisp and the sun was shining. Perfect morning. I was feeling all, Look at me up and running before people are heading out to work. Look at me wearing my pre-preggo workout clothes. Look at me already a mile down while my kiddos are still fast asleep. Look at me…tripping and falling flat on my face. Yep, that happened. Flat. On my face. Pride comes before a fall? Consider me humbled.

So yes, time to get healthy. I’m not necessarily on a quest to get skinny, although shedding these last 10 lbs. will be a happy bonus. I’m on a quest to lay off the pizza, ice cream, and all of the other super unhealthy foods I craved during my pregnancy. See ya later bad stuff!

Yes, I realize I am quite possibly completely full of it, and a big fat chocolate cake will show up on the blog next week. That’s ok. What is that saying, “Eat a little of everything and a lot of nothing”? I can totally do that! Chocolate cake, here I come! Next week. Today we’re eating salad; and this salad is a good one. It almost makes you not miss cake. Almost.

This salad is seriously yummy. It has everything you need to feel full and satisfied without having any meat. I love that. Sometimes you don’t need meat. Am I right? If you’re a man you likely disagree, so feel free to add some diced grilled chicken. That would be ok. I won’t do that, but you totally can. Have fun chopping and shredding the veggies for this salad. I’m totally serious, isn’t it so much fun to chop and shred and dice? I love it…free therapy!

So here’s to another pretty salad! It tastes as good as it looks, and looks pretty darn awesome. Enjoy…happy swimsuit (salad) season!

thaipeppersalad2

For the salad:

16 ounces shelled edamame, cooked
5-6 cups kale, shredded
1/2 cup basil, chopped
1/4 cup mint, chopped
3 large carrots, shredded
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
¾ cup cashews, chopped

For the dressing:

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon- 1 tablespoon sriracha (to your taste)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 lime, juiced
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Using a food processor, puree all of the ingredients for the dressing. Set aside.
  2. In the same food processor, pulse all but a 1/2 cup of the edamame until finely chopped.
  3. Combine all of the ingredients for the salad, except the cashews, in a large bowl. Toss with the dressing, top with chopped cashews and serve.

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Asparagus’ Last Hurrah!

aspargus tart

I’m a big asparagus fan. I eat it year-around because I like it and because let’s face it, I can. We live in America and can get our hands on pretty much any produce any time of year, we just might pay a pretty penny for it. That’s the beauty of seasonal eating though. If you eat what’s in season it will not only taste better, it will cost less. So that’s why this dish is asparagus’ last hurrah…of the season.

I love how versatile asparagus is. It aims to please; making it easy for any cook to accomplish something wonderful with it. Grilled, roasted, battered and fried, sautéed, served raw in a salad, pureed into a soup…there is truly something for everyone. There’s not much I haven’t done with asparagus, and now I can mark even one more preparation off the list. Please marvel at this gorgeous tart with me. I mean, how yummy?!

asparagus-tart-horiz

Flaky, buttery puff pastry is the perfect vehicle to house nutty gruyere cheese, caramelized leeks and bright green asparagus. This tart is a cinch to put together, taking very little time and effort but looking like a million bucks. You could cut it up into squares and serve it as an app at your next get together or dinner party, but it would also be a nice alternative side dish to a grilled steak. Starch and veggie in one bite, throw it in the oven and tend to the grill. Done.

However you serve it, just serve it. It’s pretty to look at and even more pleasant to eat. A fun alternative to what you’ve probably been doing with Spring’s favorite veggie.

Asparagus Tart with Gruyere and Leeks

2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted
8 oz. Gruyere cheese, freshly grated
1½ pounds medium asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 leek, trimmed, cleaned, sliced lengthwise and chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prep a parchment lined baking sheet and place the two puff pastry sheets on the baking sheet, overlapping them about an inch to connect them. Using a sharp knife, lightly score the pastry dough 1 inch in from the edges all around to mark a rectangle for the outer crust. Then, using a fork, pierce the dough all around in the center, not the edges. Bake the pastry dough until golden, about 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté until caramelized, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Remove the pastry shell from the oven, sprinkle with Gruyere cheese and caramelized leeks.
  4. Arrange asparagus spears in a single layer over the Gruyere cheese, alternating ends and tips. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
  5. Slice and serve. Enjoy! 🙂

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For the quinoa haters…

SouthwestFarroSalad

My husband and I are on a healthy eating kick. I bet you’re thinking that’s ironic since my last post was about cake, but trust me, we’re all salads, smoothies and lean proteins around here. Sure we cheat…enter hummingbird cake…but we’re really trying to get ourselves ready for summer.

The problem I run into when trying to prepare healthy dinners for BJ and myself is that we don’t really see eye-to-eye on what those dinners should look like. BJ would like grilled chicken or steamed fish and I would rather eat an old shoe than live off of that kind of sustenance. I prefer salads made with tons of fresh veggies,  interesting vinaigrettes and meatless proteins like quinoa. Herein lies the problem…BJ hates quinoa. He says it tastes like plastic and absolutely despises it. No matter how I dress it up, he’s not a fan. Bummer. It’s so easy to make and always satisfies my carb craving while being super high in fiber and protein. I hope your husband likes it. If so, please cook it for me!

This recipe was birthed from BJ’s quinoa strike. Tired of grilled chicken and lettuce, I really wanted to make a salad that would trick me into thinking I was eating a plate of pasta, or at least give me the mouthfeel of it. Having always wanted to try farro, I picked up a pack at Trader Joe’s and decided it would replace the quinoa in my Southwest “Quinoa” Salad. One cup of farro contains a whopping 14 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber. You’ll be feeling full for a long time after eating which is exactly what we’re trying to accomplish!

I made this salad while my mom was still here helping with Kellan and Allie. She really liked it and we both gobbled up our helpings. I have a feeling BJ is still on the fence. More grilled chicken and fish for him this week while I help myself to these leftovers. Happy eating!

Southwest Farro Salad with Honey-Cilantro Vinaigrette

1 cup farro
1 can black beans, drained
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 avocado, chopped into ½ inch pieces
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
zest of ½ lime
salt and pepper, to taste

For the Honey-Cilantro Dressing:

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons honey

  1. Prepare farro according to package directions.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients for the cilantro dressing in a small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Combine beans, corn, avocado and tomatoes and gently toss with dressing.
  4. Toss cooked farro with the dressed avocado and tomato mixture.
  5. Serve.

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