Kale Pesto

Raise your hand if you love pesto! I do, I do! I could seriously slather something in pesto every day of the week. Pasta, bread, chicken, veggies…everything tastes better with pesto. Last week I had a bag of kale that never made it to our lunchtime smoothies and needed to be used up, so pesto came to mind. Why not? Since kale is naturally a little bitter, I considered a quick blanch to mellow it out, but then I also considered the fact that I’m 7 months pregnant and that’s like an additional 2 steps and dishes, so I quickly decided who cares. I’m glad I went that route because it honestly didn’t need it. Once you add the parmesan cheese, toasted walnuts and extra-virgin olive oil, the bitterness quietly melts away into the background. It’s just enough to still recognize the kale, but not so much that it’s unpleasant.

Pesto is truly a blank slate that you can take in any direction you choose. Use what you have on hand and don’t stress too much about measurements and what you don’t have in the pantry. I had kale and a small amount a basil leftover from another recipe so I threw both in the food processor. Mint or parsley would have been equally tasty additions. I toasted up some walnuts I found in the freezer and tossed them in with parmesan cheese, lemon zest and some garlic. Finally with the processor running, I streamed in some extra-virgin olive oil until it reached the consistency I like best. Perfection.

We kept it simple…like I said, 7 months preggo…and combined it with some whole wheat penne. Quick and easy and delicious. My two year old gobbled it up because like his mommy and daddy, he LOVES all things pasta! I was thrilled that he was getting so many vitamins and nutrients from the kale, especially because he has been on a veggie strike as of late. Dinner success!

kale-pesto

Kale Pesto

1 bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup basil
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more and less to taste

In a large food processor, combine kale, basil, garlic, toasted walnuts, parmesan cheese and lemon zest. Pulse to combine. With the machine running, slowly stream in extra-virgin olive oil until pesto reaches the consistency you like best. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate or serve.

6,000 Calories Later…

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It’s Monday after the Super Bowl. The Patriots took the win, Katy Perry and Missy Elliott rocked the halftime show (or didn’t if you’re of that opinion), and on average Americans consumed about 6,000 calories EACH. Yep, I’m not kidding. And unless you woke up this morning and ran a marathon, you’re not likely to undo the damage you just did in a day or two…you’ll be running that one off for a while! BJ and I definitely did our fair share of eating yesterday. I usually like to do it up a little more than I did this year, but being 6 months pregnant and completely exhausted from two straight weeks of wrangling my potty-training two year old, I got lazy. We love a good chip party in our house so good old-fashioned queso and guacamole did the trick. I doubt we reached the 6,000 calorie mark but it still feels good to err on the healthier side today. Green smoothies for lunch and a super flavorful, yet nutritious salad for dinner.

If you’re interested in joining us in making better food decisions today, you should definitely give this Crunchy Ramen Salad a go. It’s really easy to throw together and your family will love it! If you want to add more protein, top it with sliced grilled chicken. This will likely become a family favorite and your go-to recipe for potlucks and picnics. Enjoy!

Ramensalad

Crunchy Ramen Salad with Mango and Asian Honey Vinaigrette

Salad Ingredients:

1, 12 to 16 oz. bag tri-colored coleslaw mix
2, 3 oz. packages of ramen noodles, crumbled (you will not use the seasoning packet)
1 cup shelled and cooked edamame
2 avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
1 cup frozen mango chunks, thawed and chopped
1/2 cup thinly-sliced green onions
Asian honey vinaigrette (see ingredients below)

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

2/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread the crumbled ramen noodles on a baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes, or until noodles are slightly toasted and golden. Remove baking sheet, toss and return it to the oven and toast for an additional 2 minutes. Keep an eye on the noodles so they don’t burn. Remove and set aside.
  2. To make the vinaigrette, whisk all ingredients together until combined.
  3. Add ingredients (including the vinaigrette) together in a large bowl, and toss until combined.
  4. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

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New Year, New Adventures

Happy New Year everybody! It’s out with the old and in with the new…new resolutions, new healthy habits, new hobbies. As we packed all of our Christmas decorations away in boxes and tucked them in the back of closets until next year, many of us daydreamed about what our lives will look like in 2015. We set goals and make lists, focusing on things we want to start doing in 2015, as well as things we hope we never do again. I love the new year. It’s the perfect time to start fresh and make every effort to be the person we want to be. My husband and I love to sit down together every January and talk about our goals. Something about saying them out loud seems to make them more likely to come to pass…maybe it’s the accountability it creates. I have a long list of things I’d like to accomplish in 2015. Some of them are things I hope to do like run another half marathon after our daughter is born in April. Other items are on my list out of complete necessity, like potty train my two year before the baby arrives and get my home organized and de-cluttered before baby gear covers every inch and corner of the house again. Lots to do and so little time…or energy…to do it! 🙂

Baby #2 will be an adventure for sure and has given us a lot to be excited about in 2015! What’s your new year adventure? For my younger sister, Chelsey, 2015 has already been a year of firsts. Like many do, Chelsey made it her goal to eat nutritious, fresh, home-cooked food. Don’t get me wrong, she has been eating home-cooked food forever…just not prepared by herself and in her own kitchen. Chelsey has never really had an interest in cooking. When I was growing up my mom and I would spend hours in the kitchen cooking and baking, while Chelsey usually only showed up to lick the cookie dough off the spoon and scrape the yummy leftover goodness out of the bottom of the bowl. That was the extent of her “cooking.” It probably doesn’t help that for a long time two out her three meals a day seemed to be Starbucks frappuccinos…but that’s a whole other conversation. 🙂

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However, in the three short weeks that have passed in 2015, Chelsey has sent me more pictures of the yummy food she’s whipped up than she’s ever made in her entire 28 years put together. I’m so excited for her! Every night it’s something new and yummy. Her photos make this pregnant girl’s mouth water and I want to try everything she’s made!

Finally a few nights ago I got to try one of the very first dishes Chelsey’s ever cooked from scratch. Spicy Cauliflower Stir Fry from Ree Drummond’s blog, The Pioneer Woman. As soon as I saw the picture and read the ingredients I knew this was going to be one my husband and I would love. You can’t beat the umami flavors of a good stir fry or fried rice without the guilt! I have to admit, while I was painstakingly breaking apart the head of cauliflower into teeny tiny florets, I was kind of shocked Chelsey made it through the process without getting annoyed. The smaller the florets are the quicker they soften up while cooking and the better the whole dish will be. Trust me, it’s worth it. The only addition I made was toasting up a few tablespoons of sesame seeds and tossing them in at the last second. It added a nutty crunch that I loved.

Thank you, Chelsey, for introducing me to this super satisfying take-out fake-out. I’m so proud of all of your culinary feats so far this year and can’t wait to see what else you share with me!

cauliflower stir fry

Spicy Cauliflower Take-Out Fake-Out

1 whole head cauliflower
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 lime
2 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon sriracha,plus more for deeper color and flavor if you wish
2-3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

  1. Break up the cauliflower into large florets, then, using your hands, break into very small florets.
  2. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high to high heat. Add the oil, then the cauliflower and garlic. Stir the cauliflower around the pan, allowing it to get very brown in some areas.
  3. Cook for 3 minutes, then turn heat to low. Add soy sauce, squeeze in the juice of the lime, and add most of the sliced green onion, reserving the rest for serving. Stir and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes more, then squeeze the hot sauce over the cauliflower. Stir until the hot sauce has been incorporated. Add a little more hot sauce if you want a deeper color and flavor. Toss in toasted sesame seeds and serve.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Happy Thanksgiving everyone! As a special treat and my way of saying THANKS to all of our Menu Therapy subscribers and readers, please enjoy this 10-course Thanksgiving Dinner for 8. Use the whole menu or pick and choose what sounds good to you. Either way, have an absolutely DELICIOUS and BLESSED Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving First Course- Roasted Squash Soup

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I absolutely love when my friends send me recipes to try! Not only am I always ready to try something new in the kitchen, it makes me feel good to know that someone was thinking of me while they ate a yummy meal. Love it! I was thrilled the other night when my super sweet friend, Hamta, texted me a link to a squash soup recipe she tried and loved. Hamta and her husband, Alex, are a part of our Life Group at church and are one of the sweetest and most genuine couples I know. They are Menu Therapy subscribers and love to get in the kitchen and cook yummy food. Alex actually surprised us all with his stellar cooking skills on a trip to Lake Tahoe last winter. Such a fun couple!

The best part of trying recipes from friends is when they turn out to be a complete home run. This Roasted Squash Soup is just that- out of the park! Hanna suggested swapping the butternut squash out for Kabocha Squash. If you’ve never tried it before, like I had not, don’t be scared. It’s fantastic! I actually rarely like dishes prepared using butternut squash. I’m not sure why- I really want to like it, but something about it always leaves me feeling “meh.” Not so with the kabocha! This “Japanese pumpkin” can be found in any grocery store.  Look for the squash with dark green skin and white to light green stripes, shaped like a small pumpkin.

Photo credit from chow.com

I wanted to share this recipe with you now because I think it would make the PERFECT first course for your Thanksgiving Dinner. It’s sweet, nutty and is in no way overpowering, and it definitely won’t fill you up too much to enjoy the rest of your dinner. To go the extra mile on presentation, reserve and clean up a few of the seeds while you’re prepping the kabocha.  Then, once you remove the squash from the oven, toss the seeds on the same buttery sheet pan with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of cinnamon, lower the heat to 325 and roast for approximately 30 minutes while the soup cooks. Top each bowl of soup with a few seeds and a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg. Happy Thanksgiving!

roastedsquashsoup1

Ingredients:

3 – 3.5 lbs. kabocha squash, seeded and quartered
Unsalted butter, melted, for brushing
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus 1 teaspoon
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1 garlic clove, minced
small shallot, minced
3 cups chicken stock
1/8 cup honey, plus more to taste
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
toasted squash seeds, for garnish (see blog)

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place the quartered squash onto a half sheet pan, brush the flesh of the squash with a little butter and season with 1 tablespoon of the salt and 1 teaspoon of the pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 30 to 35 minutes or until the flesh is soft and tender.
  3. In a 6 quart pot heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and shallot and sauté 2 minutes, careful not to burn. Scoop the flesh from the skin of the squash and add to the pot. Add the broth, honey and ginger.
  4. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Using an immersion or stand blender, puree the mixture until smooth*. Stir in the heavy cream and return to a low simmer. Season with the remaining salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

*When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

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Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars

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If you’re looking for something to do with that batch of salted caramel you made with me last week, I have a recipe for you! We are right at the peak of apple season…the perfect time to pick some apples and turn them into pies, bars, butters, and jams. Apple nirvana! Combine apple season with the fact that salted caramel and apples go together like peanut butter and jelly, and you will soon agree that these Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars are the perfect way to kick off November. I snagged this gem of a recipe from my favorite website for all things sweet, Sally’s Baking Addiction, and made them for our Life Group last week. They were a huge hit! I suggest serving them warm and smothered with nothing but caramel, but my mom would argue that they’re best served up with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Either way, these bars are sure to become a fall staple in your house. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

Shortbread Crust

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

Apple Filling

1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and thinly sliced (1/4 inch thick)
1 large Honey Crisp apple, peeled and thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Streusel

1/2 cup (40g) old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup (70g) light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (30g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
Salted Caramel recipe from below

  1. Preheat the oven to 300F degrees. Line an 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. Set aside.
  2. Make the crust: Stir the melted butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the flour and stir until everything is combined. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes while you prepare the filling and streusel.
  3. Make the apple filling: Combine the sliced apples, flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl until all of the apples are evenly coated. Set aside.
  4. Make the streusel: Whisk the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour together in a medium bowl. Cut in the chilled butter with a pastry blender or two knives (or even with your hands) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.
  5. Remove the crust from the oven, and turn the oven up to 350F degrees. Evenly layer the apples on top of the warm crust. Press them together tightly and press down to fit in pan. Sprinkle the apple layer with streusel and bake for 30–35 minutes or until the streusel is golden brown.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Lift the foil out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into bars. Once cut, pour salted caramel sauce on top. Enjoy!

Subtle, Simple Salted Caramel

salted caramel

Somehow I had yet to jump on the salted caramel train until today. It’s not that I have anything against it; I’ve honestly just been a little gun shy about making my own caramel since consistently burning it throughout cooking school. I’m such an embarrassment to culinary professionals everywhere. Caramel is easy. It’s certainly not rocket science but it blows my mind every time. Not sure what my problem is…I follow the directions for temperature, time, constant whisking and timely heat removal. I even strap a candy thermometer onto the side of my saucepan to make the whole thing fail-proof. Still no luck. Burnt caramel every single time. This happened as recently as yesterday! I made a two-cup batch of the stuff that tasted like a marshmallow that’s been toasted a little (LOT!) too long in a smoky bonfire. Still sweet, but the ashy outer layer is a complete buzz kill. Please see the color difference between a perfect caramel and one that has been burned. This will help you when you give it a shot and you see the color start to develop.

burnt caramel

So what have I learned, you ask? I’ve learned what I already knew to be true but often forget when it comes to cooking something that’s slightly outside of my comfort zone. Trust your instincts. If the heat seems too high it probably is. If the color is getting darker and darker but the candy thermometer still hasn’t reached 350 degrees, throw that thermometer out! And lastly, if your nose is telling you that something is burning but you haven’t been whisking for the allotted 5 minutes, take the pan off the heat…NOW!

Taking all of this into consideration I decided to try my hand at another batch of caramel using nothing but the appropriate ingredients and common sense. Surprise of all surprises- it worked! I threw out the whisk and used a silicone spatula to stir melting sugar, turned the heat down to medium-low (some recipes say medium-high!!), and removed the whole thing from the heat the second the butter was fully incorporated and BEFORE adding the heavy cream. Enter perfect caramel. I also opted to use salted butter and just a small teaspoon of fine sea salt instead of the tablespoon of Maldon Sea Salt I used in the previous inedible batch. This made a huge difference in texture AND flavor in my opinion. Subtlety versus knock-you-over the head with saltiness flavor. I’m extremely happy with how my Salted Caramel turned out and am already making a list of delicious ways to use it up. Stay tuned!

Subtle, Simple Salted Caramel

6 tablespoons salted sweet cream butter, cubed and at room temp
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, at room temp
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

  1. Heat a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium low heat. Add sugar and stir constantly with a silicone spatula. Nothing will happen for a very long time. You will doubt yourself and think about turning the heat up. Don’t. The sugar will slowly begin to brown, melt and clump. It will look like a pan full of sugar crystals and you will again begin to doubt yourself. Don’t. It will melt. ***Side note: Do NOT touch the melted sugar!! You will burn your finger and then your tongue when you quickly try to lick it off to stop the pain! I speak from experience.***
  2. The SECOND the sugar is completely melted with zero clumps remaining, stir in butter. Be careful because it will foam up and makes scary splattering noises. That’s ok! Keep stirring until completely incorporated. You might need to quickly switch to a whisk to get this to happen.
  3. As soon as the butter and sugar have combined and are looking like a sticky mess, remove from heat and slowly add in heavy cream. Whisk and whisk and whisk until smooth. Add salt and let cool slightly before handling. Pour into a mason jar to be extra cute about it. Pat yourself on the back for not screwing up! 🙂

Dadgum That’s Good…and Healthy!

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I recently had the great honor of having a recipe and bio published in my friend John McLemore’s cookbook, Dadgum That’s Good…and Healthy! John is the President and CEO of Masterbuilt Manufacturing, a company based in Columbus, GA that designs and builds grills, smokers, electric fryers, and more. I can speak from experience in saying that these products are AWESOME! I used the indoor turkey fryer when I cooked for the Purvis family beach trip this spring and had delicious results. I used to it to fry up homemade french fries that were so crispy and perfect they were gobbled up in about five minutes, and even replaced the frying oil with water the next night and prepared a low country boil that fed 20 adults. The versatility is amazing and the results are top notch every time. My next guilty pleasure will be purchasing the updated electric smoker. I can’t imagine an easier way to prepare a meal for a crowd that not only fills everyone’s belly, but leaves them wishing for more smokey goodness. Merry Christmas to me, BJ?

This cookbook is full of delicious recipes that are super tasty and yet waistline-friendly. Some of my favorites include Bobby Deen’s Grilled Corn with Pimento Cheese on page 45, the Thumbs-Up Fried Green Tomato Sandwiches on page 91, and the Piri Piri Chicken on page 151. Also, don’t forget to check out my spread on page 127. My recipes for Salsa Verde Skirt Steak and Grilled Green Bean Salad are absolutely worth checking out.

To snatch up your own copy of Dadgum That’s Good…and Healthy! click here.

How NOT to Screw Up Dinner

Couple in home kitchen using electronic tablet

 

  1. Read the recipe from BEGINNING TO END before you start cooking.
    We’ve all done this, haven’t we? It’s happened to me more often than I care to confess actually. I skimmed the recipe and got cooking. Whoops! You mean those onions weren’t supposed to go in the meat mixture but actually the sauce? Yikes! My sweet mother-in-law is a recent example of this. She set out to bake a Tres Leches Cake using a recipe I sent her.  She told me she was very proud of herself as she began laying out her ingredients so she would be well organized and have everything she needed at her fingertips. She started the process by cracking the 5 eggs that were called for and putting them into the same bowl. Fast forward a few steps…the yolks and whites were supposed to be kept separate! She then spent the better part of  a half hour trying to scoop the yolks out the whites, but ultimately gave up and started over. Luckily, she had just bought a dozen eggs so she still had a few to spare, but what a bummer if she had not!A lot of recipes have little twists and turns that you might not have expected. Save yourself the time and trouble and ALWAYS read through the whole thing before you start cracking your eggs. 🙂
  1. Don’t over-substitute.
    Sure, the occasional ingredient substitution is to be expected, and even welcomed at times when you’re trying to lighten up a dish or keep from having to make a last minute grocery store run. But be smart about it. If you’re looking to impress your eaters it may not be the time to replace full fat mozzarella with its pathetic-excuse-for-a-cheese sibling, reduced-fat mozz. That stuff is practically plastic anyway so I’m not sure why that would ever be a good idea, but you get my drift.Also, I can’t help but chuckle when I hear someone complain that a recipe didn’t turn out right, but then confess that they didn’t have milk so they just used water instead. Yuck! Or this is my favorite… “I didn’t have onions or garlic or salt, so I just left those things out. Why is my dish bland?” These are flavor-builders people! You are better off cooking an entirely different meal than leaving essentials out of a recipe.
  1. Salt is your friend.
    Yes, this is absolutely coming from the perspective of a chef not a cardiologist, but please salt your food! Salt in the beginning, salt in the middle and salt again before it hits the table. Ok, I realize I probably just scared a lot of you, but a little bit of salt is all that separates a bland dish from a spectacular one! Salt and taste, salt and taste. Your family will thank you!
  1. Don’t serve food you haven’t tasted.
    Have you ever watched one of those cooking competition TV shows? They’re a everywhere now…Top Chef,  Master Chef, Iron Chef, The Next Food Network Star, just to name a few. The worst thing EVER is when a contestant puts s dish in front of the judges and it’s so bad they can’t hide their disdain and then quickly ask, “Have you tasted this?” Sheepishly the contestant shakes their head. This blows my mind!! You’re trying to win Top Chef and you didn’t TASTE your food before handing it over to be judged?  This is madness! Call me crazy, but my husband and child are the dinner judges every night in my kitchen. I aim to please and would never serve up something I wasn’t sure they were going to love, especially because when something isn’t quite right, it’s almost always an easy fix.
  1. Think of others when adding heat.
    Now this isn’t necessarily something that would screw up dinner for everyone but it could definitely ruin it for one. Think of everyone who will be dining with you when you are making a spicy dish. If someone in your family or party doesn’t like too much heat, it’s better to keep that in mind and tone it down a bit than throw caution to the wind a completely blow out their palate. You can always serve up some extra diced peppers or hot sauce on the side for those who appreciate feeling like a fire-breathing dragon at dinner.
  1. Invest in an internal thermometer.
    There’s nothing worse than cutting into a piece of chicken to see that it is still pink inside. Ewww. If you’re not sure how to tell if chicken or other proteins are cooked to their proper temperature then the best thing to do is buy a food thermometer and check it prior to serving. See this link for proper food temperatures.

So those are my six easy ways to NOT screw up dinner. What do you think? Do you have any funny kitchen-nightmare stories or other suggestions to add to the list? I’d love to hear from you!

Menu Therapy Cooking Tip: How to Peel a Kiwi Easily

Kiwi Slices

I’m about to blow your mind with one of the greatest tricks I learned in cooking school. It came during my two weeks learning Baking and Pastry, a class that seriously scared me to death and had me in cold sweats. Baking is suuuuper tricky. For my final exam I watched in horror as my Charlotte slowly but surely turned into the Leaning Tower of Mousse and Ladyfingers, and nearly burned my eyebrows off peering`into the oven to see if my soufflé was planning on rising sometime this year. STRESSFUL. Classes like Baking a Pastry are surely why “desserts” spelled backwards is s-t-r-e-s-s-e-d. Holy cow.

Anyways, back to the topic at hand…the best and most practical trick EVER came from that same class and it changed my life. Seriously I was so pumped. I think my chef instructor was slightly annoyed at how excited this simple trick made me as it is certainly not a classic technique. However, it is easy and awesome and makes my day to day cooking easier and…awesomer?

So if you’re like me and have ever found yourself frustrated at the simple task of taking the furry, prickly, nasty little brown skin off of a kiwi, this video is for you!

Happy Peeling!

5 Things to Eat Before Summer is REALLY Gone With the Wind

 

 

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Cold Soup- Keep your house cool on a hot summer day and whip up a no-cook gazpacho. Tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers are at their peak this time of year so there’s no better time to eat them in their “raw’ form. Did I mention the health benefits are even greater before all of the nutrients have been cooked out? I’d love to include a gazpacho on the weekly meal plan but knowing what men like my husband and dad would say, I haven’t gotten that brave yet. Check out Ree Drummond’s Gazpacho recipe for one of the best I’ve tasted…and guess what guys, she tops it with shrimp!

Squash Blossoms- These vibrant, orange blossoms most often from a zucchini plant can be found at farmer’s markets around the country during summer. Stuff them with a creamy herbed cheese mixture and lightly fry them up, or thinly slice and sprinkle over a pasta dish. You can’t go wrong. Check out this source for more squash blossom inspiration.

Peaches- Peaches are at their absolute best for a few more weeks. Juicy and sweet- it’s time to take advantage of them. You could toss them in a cobbler, but let’s be honest, couldn’t you do that with frozen peaches just as easily? My suggestion is good old fashioned Peaches and Cream. Slice them up and pour in half and half, or if you dare- heavy cream! Peachy, creamy heaven in a bowl.

Heirloom Tomatoes- Look for heirlooms with their funky shapes and wide spectrum of colors. So ugly they’re cute, as a general rule heirloom tomatoes come from a seed that is at least 50 years old. When preparing an heirloom tomato keep in mind that less is more. Of course you can sauté it up in a pasta dish or roast some to intensify their already perfectly sweet flavor, but I think the nicest thing you can do is just leave them alone. Drizzle chopped heirlooms with good quality extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Simple salad perfection. Check out the entries and winners from Food52’s Heirloom Tomato Recipe Contest for more ideas.

Dessert in a Mason Jar- This was totally my Labor Day game plan. I was in charge of the dessert portion of our weekend potluck so I thought that Banana Pudding served up in a mason jar would be the perfect salute to summer’s farewell. Well, it would have been had I not completely misplaced my mason jars! They must have grown legs and hitch-hiked back to the South because I can’t find them anywhere. The banana pudding was delish, but I just know it would have tasted even better layered into a mason jar! Need more mason jar inspiration? Check out this cute blog with all sorts of tips and tricks.

Sweet, Sweet Summer

Summer Sauté Close Up

I can’t believe summer is almost behind us! How can that be? It seems like only a few short days ago I was excited about the arrival of spring and now it’s late August. Too fast! If you’re like us summer is a very busy time of year. Maybe it’s because we happen to live in a pretty fabulous destination spot and play host to family and friends during their annual vacations…which we LOVE doing…or maybe it’s because my husband and I both also see summer as the official countdown to college football season. Either way it’s here today and gone tomorrow like no other season. Luckily, we have a few more weeks to go; weeks in which I will make every possible trip to the Laguna Beach Farmer’s Market I can, and grab all of my favorite summertime fruits and veggies as long as they’re available. My checklist of ingredients that I’ve yet to cook with this season is pretty long, but the good news is I’m back in the kitchen every night as usual so I have plenty of time to get cracking on them. First up next week- squash blossoms! Those little suckers will be stuffed with cheese and fried in a white wine batter as soon as I get my hands on them this weekend. Post to follow!

Last night I stumbled upon a very seasonal, very tasty, and very easy side dish. I’m so excited about this dish that I can’t wait to make it a part of the meal plan for our subscribers next week. If you’ve ever imagined what summer on a plate would taste like, this is it! Zucchini, sweet yellow corn and juicy cherry tomatoes tossed with thyme, oregano, basil, and parmesan cheese, all rounded out with a squeeze of lime juice. It’s hearty yet light, and the bright zing from the lime juice elevates the flavor above your average vegetable sauté or ratatouille. It’s everything a summer side dish should be- fun, bright, colorful, healthful and zippy! 🙂 I love it and can’t wait for you try it. Let me know what you think!

Summer Sauté in Pan

Ingredients:

1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
3 large zucchini, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lime, juiced
1/4 cup  grated Parmesan

  1. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, being careful not to burn.
  2. Add the zucchini and corn and sauté for 1 minute. Add in salt, pepper, basil, oregano and thyme. Continue to cook for 2 minutes more.
  3. Add in cherry tomatoes and lime juice and cook for just another minute more or until tomatoes just begin to burst.
  4. Toss in parmesan cheese and stir to coat. Serve.

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Bridal Showers and Peanut Butter Pie

Peanut Butter Pie

When I got married seven years ago I had some of the BEST bridal showers ever. I was very lucky to have some seriously awesome friends from almost every stage of my life jump in and ask to throw me a shower. Lucky, lucky me! It was a really fun season and the outpouring of love I felt during that time has stayed with me throughout the years. So special!

Of all of the wonderfully generous gifts I received, the one that I have used the absolute most is probably this peanut butter pie recipe. No joke. At my kitchen shower all of the lovely ladies were asked to bring a copy of their favorite recipe, and that’s how I got my hands on this gem. I feel kind of guilty about it because I have no idea whose recipe this originally was, but now I am known as having the BEST peanut butter pie around. Whoops! I guess the secret’s out now- it’s not actually my recipe. I did make one considerable improvement to it by adding my own graham cracker crust instead of a store-bought one. One could argue that really takes this pie to another level, but all in all the credit really belongs to someone else. So dear friend if you are reading this blog and the recipe looks familiar…THANKS!!- And please let me know so I can pass the kudos to you!

My in-laws are driving down the freeway as we speak, coming to spend some time with Baby K. My father-in-law, Bill, LOVES this pie and will be thrilled to see it chilling out in the fridge. I don’t get to make it for him nearly as often as I’d like, so I made sure to have it ready and waiting for his arrival. Next to Kellan, I think this peanut-buttery goodness is going to be a sight for sore eyes.

This recipe is a breeze to follow and can be whipped up in mere minutes. You’ll have to let it set up in the refrigerator for a while, but no one said you couldn’t start the party early by digging in to whatever gooey remnants grace the bottom of your mixing bowl. Heck, spread it on a banana and call it a healthy snack…there’s fruit involved after all and we know how I feel about that.

Speaking of bananas, there are a lot of ways you can dress this pie up and make it your own. Layer sliced bananas on top of the crust before pouring the peanut butter filling in, switch the graham cracker crust out for one made with chocolate wafer crumbs, or add a caramel drizzle to the top…anything! Or you can leave it as is and take the credit anyway. I certainly won’t tell. 🙂

Peanut Butter Pie

 

For the crust:

2 cups of finely crushed graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
pinch of salt

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Mix all of the ingredients together. Firmly press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a lightly buttered pie dish. Use the bottom of a glass to make sure the crust is nicely pressed into the edges of the pie pan.  Bake for 7 to 8 minutes. Let cool completely before filling.

For the pie filling:

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar

Whip the heavy cream and granulated sugar on high speed until stiff peaks form. Set aside. Beat the cream cheese, peanut butter and powdered sugar until smooth and totally combined. Fold the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture until blended. Pour filling into the cooled graham cracker crust and chill for at least 4 hours.

Lemon Blueberry Cake with Raspberry Filling

Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake with Raspberry Filling

I love a good themed dessert, especially on the Fourth of July. When I was a teenager it was a store-bought cake mix topped with icing-in-a-tub and decorated like a flag with sliced strawberries and blueberries. I was so proud! A few years later it was a red, white and blue trifle with layers of sponge cake, vanilla custard, whipped cream, and of course, the standard strawberries and blueberries. Good stuff. Last year my sister came to visit on the 4th and we really went all out- Rice Crispy treats with red and blue sprinkles. Whatever, they were good.

This year I’m lucky enough to have stumbled upon my new favorite blog for all things sweet. Sally’s Baking Addiction is an awesome resource for satisfying your sweet tooth. Her recipes are super easy to follow with great baking tips and tricks tucked in along the way. She also has beautiful photographs of her treats throughout the cooking process, making each recipe hard to resist. Check it out!

I’ve been wanting to make the Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake from her website for a while. I don’t know what it is about dessert with fruit in it, but I’m always drawn to those recipes. I like to pretend that a cake, fruit, pie, or muffin laden with fruit, is healthy. Not just healthier…healthy.  So a layer cake bursting with plump blueberries and bright lemons? I might as well be eating salad! Yeah- I know I’m dreaming, but I don’t crush your dreams so please don’t crush mine. There has to be some sort of evidence to support this, right? Fruit is obviously more nutritious than chocolate so surely there’s some merit to my claim. Oh well.

Regardless, this cake has been calling my name for weeks and meets almost all of my July Fourth criteria.  White and blue. Now for the red. I could have easily just thrown some raspberries on top and called it a day, but that seemed like a little bit of a cop out. It makes sense and would have totally tasted fine, but it doesn’t really tie together with the rest of the cake. So maybe an actual raspberry filling? Whenever my Oma baked a layer cake she always used a fruit filling to go along with the buttercream filling. It was the perfect combination of sweet-tartness to go along with the super sweet buttercream. I decided to do the same and I am really happy with the way the cake came out. The spongecake has a very subtle lemon flavor that provides the perfect base for this decadent dessert and pairs well with both berries. The icing is probably the best buttercream I’ve ever made and will likely be my icing of choice from here on out. It’s so easy and delicious, and like Sally describes, tastes like “spreadable cheesecake.” YUM!

I hope you’ll try this recipe out for the 4th…or any time for that matter. It’s sweet, it’s fruity, and it’s super healthy- right? 🙂 Happy Fourth of July!

Sliced Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake with Raspberry Fililng

For the cake:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 and 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (240ml) buttermilk
zest + juice of 3 medium lemons
1 and 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or non-thawed frozen
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour

For the raspberry filling:

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons cornstarch

For the frosting:

8 ounces (224g) full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3 and 1/2 cups (420g) confectioners’ sugar
1 – 2 Tablespoons (15-30ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray three 9×2 inch cake pans with nonstick spray or butter and flour them. Set aside.

Make the cake. Using a handheld or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high until creamy – about 1 minute. Add granulated and brown sugars and beat on medium-high speed until creamed, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until everything is combined, about 2 full minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Set aside.

In a large sized bowl, toss together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Beat on low speed for 5 seconds, then add the milk, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Remove from the mixer and stir lightly until everything is just combined. Toss the blueberries in 1 Tablespoon of flour and fold into the batter. Batter is extremely thick. Do not overmix at any point.

Spoon batter evenly into 3 prepared cake pans. If only using 2 cake pans, your bake time will be longer. Bake the three layers for about 21-26 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Mine took 21 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Make the raspberry filling. Add raspberries, lemon juice and sugar to a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until berries begin to release juices and the sugar has dissolved. Pour into a small food processor and pulse until pureed. Add back to saucepan and bring to a low boil. Make a slurry using 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of water. Mix well and stir into raspberries. Continue to cook over low heat until mixture has thickened and appears glossy, stirring constantly. Let cool completely.

Make the frosting. Using a handheld or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until no lumps remain, about 3 full minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, 1 Tablespoon cream, vanilla extract, and salt with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add 1 more Tablespoon of cream to thin out, if desired.

Assemble and frost. First, using a large serrated knife, trim the tops off the cake layers to create a flat surface. Place 1 layer on your cake stand. Evenly cover the top with as much raspberry filling as desired, being sure to leave a 1/4 inch border around the cake so that the filling doesn’t ooze out when you top it with the 2nd layer of cake. Top the raspberry filling with the 2nd cake layer and spread frosting all over the top, letting it spill over the sides. Secure with a few toothpicks to keep the layers from sliding off one another.  Add the 3rd layer and secure with a few more toothpicks if needed. Top with frosting and spread around the sides. Top with blueberries, rasperries or lemon garnish if desired. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before cutting or else the cake may fall apart as you cut. Don’t forget to let people know that the cake is secured with toothpicks so that they are on the look out while digging in.

Check out the cookbook, Sally’s Baking Addiction: Irresistible Cookies, Cupcakes, and Desserts for Your Sweet-Tooth Fix

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Grilled Carrots with Citrus-Honey Dressing

It’s officially Summer and I am officially obsessed with grilling. Maybe it’s because as the temperatures rise it just gets too darn hot in my house to stand over the stovetop, but whatever it is, I would much rather spend my evenings cooking outside. Grilling is summer what roasting is to winter. If you’re into food at all you’ve probably noticed the roasting craze that has taken over Pinterest, food television, and cooking blogs. “When in doubt, roast it!” they say. I totally agree and 100% subscribe to that mantra. In the wintertime everything tastes better roasted. Roasted brussels sprouts, broccoli, butternut squash, carrots, asparagus…you name it, it can be roasted. However, enter Summer and the oven takes a back seat to it’s cooler, adventurous, macho brother- the grill. If you can roast it, you can grill it. Since both methods are dry heat cooking they are practically interchangeable.

Why is it then, that most of us only use the grill to cook protein? Silly! Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we were able to complete an entire meal outside on the grill? No running back and forth…inside and outside…outside and inside. Craziness! I know every time I’m supposed to be manning the grill and the stovetop at the same time something suffers, and it’s usually whatever I’m grilling. What good is perfectly creamy risotto if the New York Strip you were planning to serve it with looks and tastes like beef jerky? Biggest bummer ever!

That’s why I’m making it my mission to keep it all outside this summer. If my meat is supposed to be grilled then my side dish will be too. Simple. Prep it all inside and then take it all outside to do the cooking. No more running to and fro like a crazy person trying to manage two ticking time bombs at once. I’m simplifying my summer cooking and meal planning.

So far this summer I’ve grilled bread for bruschetta, cherry tomatoes for a taco topping, green beans for a tangy salad, limes before squeezing them into guacamole, carrots for a sweet and smokey side dish, and yukon gold potatoes for a killer potato salad.  I’ll have to share that potato recipe soon. I served it to my meat-and-potatoes-loving Dad and he LOVED it.

Start thinking about your side dishes when you plan to fire up the grill. Is there any reason why they can’t hit the grates as well? Just to prove that it can be done I want you try this grilled carrot recipe soon. I sliced my carrots into 1/4 inch thick strips, tossed them with salt, pepper and extra-virgin olive oil, and then dropped them right on the grill. The grill marks create a sweet, caramelized crust that brings out the carrots’ natural sweetness. Then toss it with a honey-citrus dressing, fresh mint and feta cheese, and you have a super unique and tasty take on this boring old root vegetable. Enjoy- and get grilling!

grilled carrots

 

Ingredients:

1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch-thick slices lengthwise
1/4 cup fresh mint, chiffonade (thinly sliced)
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Heat a grill over medium heat. Toss carrots with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.
  2. Combine orange juice, red wine vinegar, honey, 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil and dijon mustard. Whisk vigorously until combined and slightly thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
  3. Grill carrots for 2 to 3 minutes per side with the grill closed, careful not to burn. If needed, remove carrots from direct heat and continue cooking over indirect heat until softened and cooked through.
  4. Toss carrots with dressing, mint and feta cheese. Serve.

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Oh Napa Valley…you are my favorite.

BJ and I just returned home from our very first visit to the Napa Valley. We took a short 4 day venture up north while my parents came and hung out with their favorite (and only!) grandson. Culinary adventure for Mommy and Daddy, serious grandparent time for baby Kellan. Perfect scenario. There is so much good food in Napa. Like…so much good food. We stayed in the delightful little town of Yountville, which means we were within walking distance to some of the finest restaurants in the country. Walking distance! To the French Laundry! Oh my goodness!

I’ll calm down. Unfortunately for us, walking distance or not, Thomas Keller’s world-famous restaurant was booked solid 13 weeks out. Trust me, we tried. We even considered paying off some of the lucky patrons who were taking photos by the sign before walking into the greatest food experience of their lives, but we decided that might be a little nuts. Just a little. I did, however, get to take a stroll through the French Laundry’s garden, complete with hens and playful little goats, to see where all of the magic begins. It doesn’t get more “farm fresh” than that.

The French Laundry garden

While in Napa we had the privilege of eating at some seriously awesome places including Keller’s Bouchon and Ad Hoc, and Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega. All top notch and some of the tastiest meals we’ve had. Our favorite experience was the tasting menu at Chef Richard Reddington’s Redd. Both of us had our own five-courses to taste, which meant a total of ten completely different dishes between the two of us. Best meal of our lives, hands down. The fun thing about a tasting menu is that you don’t get to choose what you eat, the chef chooses for you. I wouldn’t usually love that, especially since I’m not a big fan of seafood, but when in Napa you can sit back and happily chow down on whatever they put in front of you. My favorites were the Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with Asian Pear, Avocado, and Chili Oil on Fried Rice and the Glazed Pork Belly with Apple Puree and Soy Caramel. Before dinner BJ and I were just talking about how neither of us really care for pork belly even though it’s all the rage. Now I’m a believer! This pork belly was perfectly crispy and sweet on the outside and succulent and tender on the inside. No chewy weirdness. Just perfection. My meal also included Black Bass with Coconut Jasmine Rice and a Saffron Curry Nage, New York Strip and Short-rib and a delicious Chocolate Banana Cake to end on.

Dinner at Redd in Napa

Another highlight of our trip was the Perfect Circle Tour at Robert Sinksey Vineyards. We began our tour with the chef in their organic and biodynamic vegetable garden and vineyards, continued with an underground stroll through the wine caves, and ended at a communal table where we were served a delicious lunch to round it all out. Definitely my favorite winery experience!

Sinskey Vineyards Garden

Robert Sinksey Vineyard Caves

charcuterie plate

If you’re a self-professed foodie and have not yet been to the Napa Valley, do yourself a favor and go soon. There is so much to explore and enjoy. You will leave with a full belly, a happy heart and a whole lot of inspiration.

Newton Vineyards

Meyer Lemon Pizza

The look on my husband’s face said it all. He had just returned home from an evening surf session and was ready to devour his dinner. After all of that paddling, not to mention the hike to and from the beach with his surfboard in tow, I’m sure he was hoping that meat and potatoes were on the menu. Sorry BJ, you didn’t marry a meat-and-potatoes-for-dinner-every-night kind of girl.

“Lemon pizza? For dinner?”

“No, MEYER lemon pizza,” I answered, like that would make a difference. It didn’t. Sometimes recipes just sound really good to me. I read it or see a picture of it, and just know that it’s going to be delish. Enter Meyer Lemon Pizza. More often than not, BJ is totally on board with my weird ideas. He loves to try new things and would definitely be considered an adventurous eater…But I guess I can’t really blame him for being a little bit skeptical about this one. I can see where a citrus-covered, meatless pizza could be a bit of a disappointment to hungry surfer. However, any pizza crust smothered in goat cheese, caramelized shallots (my personal favorite flavor-rever-upper), toasted pine nuts and ribbons of fresh basil has to be divine, right?

Right!! This pizza is one of the best things I’ve eaten so far this year. Meyer lemons are a really cool lemon-orange hybrid with a very soft, thin skin that lends a really fun sweet-tartness to every bite. Not having enough goat cheese to adequately cover my store-bought Boboli pizza crust, I mixed in a little bit of plain greek yogurt and lemon juice to get the crust happily smothered. From there, top your cheese with thinly sliced meyer lemons and caramelized shallots, and quickly bake or broil in a screaming hot oven. Top with pine nuts, basil and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Pizza nirvana on a plate!

BJ loved it! I knew he would. My 18 month old “Mmmmmmed” and “Yuuuuumed” his way through his slice. Always my favorite dinnertime serenade. I’m not going to lie. I threw a few steaks on the grill at the last minute. I didn’t want to disappoint the need for meat that BJ rarely voices but always appreciates. It was a fabulous dinner on our back porch. The best company a girl could have, plenty of protein, and a the shining star, my super weird sounding, but oh so yummy Meyer Lemon Pizza. I hope you will try it soon!

Lemon Meyer Pizza

Ingredients:

whole wheat Boboli pizza crust
5 oz. goat cheese
1⁄4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 large or two medium shallots, sliced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⁄4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1⁄2 cup basil, chiffonade
2 Meyer lemons-­‐ thinly sliced and 2 teaspoons of juice reserved from half of one
salt and pepper, to taste
extra-­virgin olive oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. In a sauté pan, heat butter over medium-low heat. Add shallots and slowly caramelize. Set aside.
  3. Combine room temperature goat cheese with Greek yogurt and lemon juice. Whisk vigorously until smooth and easily spreadable. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Spread goat cheese mixture onto pizza crust leaving a ½ inch border all the way around. Top with lemon slices and shallots. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and top with pine nuts, basil, freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Slice and serve.


Mega Meaty Pizza Lasagna

A few weeks ago my mother-in-law celebrated her 50th Birthday in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. It was an awesome week with my husband’s family. We rented a super cool beach house and kept it very low key. We ate in every night, played board games and celebrated 50 years of a very special lady. Really good times. For me, part of the fun was being the family chef for the week. As long as I’ve been in the family, I’ve never had the opportunity to really cook for them night after night. Sure, there have been meals here and there, but this was the first time I was able to hold them captive in the kitchen for an entire week. It was awesome!! We had burgers made with a combination of beef and bacon, biscuits with homemade sausage gravy, a good old fashioned low-country boil, steamed King Crab legs with drawn butter, a GIGANTIC mexican fiesta, and last but not least, my Mega Meaty Pizza Lasagna.

I have a few different lasagna recipes in my repertoire. One recipe I was given while visiting Italy and another that has become a huge hit on Pinterest, my Buffalo Ranch Chicken Lasagna. Both are great, but I knew neither would cut it as our first dinner at the beach. I needed to kick things up a notch to make sure this hungry bunch of meat-eaters left the table feeling satisfied. That’s when I recalled a lasagna recipe I’d seen from a cookbook my mother-in-law gave me that included ground beef, ground sausage and pepperoni. PEPPERONI! IN LASAGNA!! Yes, please! Taking that concept I added some ideas of my own and hit a serious home run. My family loved it and couldn’t get enough. I made it again a few days ago for some friends and heard more than once that it was the best lasagna they had ever tasted. I credit the pepperoni, it really does the job.

I wanted to share this easy recipe with you because if you’re anything like me, you would love to be known for your amazing, meaty, decadent, cheesy, pepperoni-laced lasagna. Is there anything better to be known for? Enjoy!!

mega meaty lasanga

Ingredients:

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 lb. Italian sausage (mild)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. pepperoni, roughly chopped
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
12 oz. can tomato paste
2 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon oregano
1⁄4 teaspoon all-spice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
16 oz. box no-­‐boil lasagna noodles
1 lb. mozzarella cheese
16 oz. ricotta cheese
1 cup grated parmesan

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a large, heavy skillet, lightly brown ground beef, sausage, onion and garlic in the oil.  Add pepperoni, tomatoes, tomato paste, water, salt, pepper and oregano, all-spice and Worcestershire. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
  3. In a 13 x 9-inch pan, spread 1 cup of the prepared sauce. Alternate layers of noodles, sauce, ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, ending with sauce, mozzarella and parmesan.
  4. Bake for 40 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbling.
  5. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.


Pita Burgers with In-N-Out Sauce

I’ve been wanting to put a big, juicy burger on the weekly meal plan for a while now and it finally happened this week. If I’m honest, I was imagining how delightful a photo of a burger would look on my Instagram feed more than I was actually wanting to eat a burger. As it happens, I am way more impressed by the quality of the burger than I am by the way the photos turned out. Go figure. It’s totally my mistake because in trying to keep my recipe weeknight-friendly, I used a pita to house my patty instead of the traditional hamburger bun. You may not know this…I didn’t…but pitas aren’t pretty to photograph. Live and learn.

Back to the burger. The patties themselves were simple. Ground chuck, salt, pepper and pinch of garlic salt. If you’re going to go big with the toppings, as I did, leave the beef alone so there aren’t too many competing flavors. You want the all around taste of the entire burger to be what you remember, not the overly seasoned beef. I cooked the patties diner-style on an electric griddle. For those of you who think a hamburger simply must be grilled, I’d love for you to give this method a shot. It gave them a really nice, crispy, brown crust.

The big flavor punch came in the toppings…plum tomatoes, butter lettuce, caramelized onions and my take on In-N-Out’s special sauce. You could (and probably should), add bacon to this burger to up the ante even more. You really can’t go wrong!

Pita Burgers with In N Out Sauce

For the burgers:

2 lbs. ground chuck
1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil 4 pitas
2 plum tomatoes
butter lettuce
1 onion, thinly sliced
1⁄2 stick of unsalted butter
salt and pepper, to taste

For the sauce:

1 cup mayo
2/3 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons dill pickle relish
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. For the sauce, add the mayonnaise, ketchup, relish, vinegar, brown sugar, salt and pepper to a bowl. Stir to combine. Set aside.
  2. Heat butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and slowly cook to caramelize, about 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a cast-­‐iron skillet or large heavy griddle pan over medium-­‐ high heat.
  4. Form chuck into 4 balls with your hands. Season balls with salt and pepper on all sides.
  5. Add the canola oil to the heated griddle. Place the burger balls on the griddle and sear for 1 to 2 minutes per side. Then, using a spatula, press the balls down, flattening them down as you spread them out. You want the patties to be about an 1⁄2 inch thick. Let the burger get a nice char on one side, and then flip so they get nice and crusty brown, 4 to 5 minutes per side.
  6. Half pita bread so that they are half-­‐circle pockets. Spread sauce on both inside walls of pita. Be generous. Add patty, lettuce, tomato and caramelized onions to pocket. Serve remaining sauce on the side. (If your burgers are too large for one pita pocket, cut them in half and make 2 or reserve as leftovers.)


Roasted Broccoli Pesto Pasta

Since I’ve already confessed my love of pasta to you guys, I figured it would be helpful to also share my favorite pasta sauce. You can cover pasta in almost anything…tomato sauce, meat sauce, cream sauce, cheese sauce, a light olive oil based sauce…or even a combination of a few of these. Anything goes! However, my personal favorite thing to douse my noodles in, is pesto.

Pesto is an herbaceous green sauce traditionally made up of basil, toasted pine nuts, parmesan cheese, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil. Throw all of those ingredients into a food processor and pulse away. YUM! Some people take one look at anything green and think it can’t possibly taste good. Not true, my friend. My dad is actually the perfect example of such a person. I made some pesto to go over a beef dish we had the other night and he was really unenthused about trying it. Green sauce? On beef? Pass the steak sauce, please. Luckly, one bite in he became a believer. I think I even saw him attempt to lick his plate clean…sorry Dad.

I love pesto because it makes me feel like I’m eating super light even when good old carbs are hiding out under all of that herby goodness. So what? At least I’m getting my veggies.

My latest pesto creation is even more exciting because it actually takes some veggies that are REALLY good for you and yet REALLY boring, and turns them into a flavorful and super healthy pasta topping. Yay for “healthy” and “pasta” to be found in the same sentence!

Roasted Broccoli Pesto Pasta is an awesome way to sneak veggies into a meal for a picky eater, but it’s also just a really fun way to enjoy your broccoli a little bit more than usual. Roasting makes anything taste better, but it has an especially awesome effect on broccoli. The crispy little brown bits give your pesto a deep, nutty flavor that you can’t achieve with simple pine nuts. The rest of the pesto recipe remains true to tradition, and is combined with a hearty whole-wheat penne pasta and cherry tomatoes. Serve as-is or top with pan-seared chicken breast. Enjoy!

broccolipesto

Ingredients:

1 package fresh broccoli florets
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
lemon, zested
1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for roasting
1⁄2 cup basil
1⁄2 cup pine nuts (toast them quickly in a dry sauté pan if you have time) 1⁄2 cup freshly grated parmesan
salt and pepper, to taste
1 package whole wheat penne pasta
1 pint cherry tomatoes

  1. Spread broccoli and garlic out on rimmed cookie sheet or roasting pan. Drizzle with salt, pepper, and olive oil.
  2. Roast broccoli 20 to 25 minutes at 425.
  3. Remove broccoli from oven and allow to cool slightly.
  4. Put roasted broccoli, basil, pine nuts, parmesan and lemon zest in a food

    processor. Turn on and slowly drizzle in extra virgin olive oil until pesto forms. You want the pesto to be thin enough to cover pasta like a sauce, but not so thinned out that it gets oily. Add more EVOO if needed to achieve this consistency.

  5. Season pesto with salt and pepper as needed.
  6. Toss pesto with cooked pasta and cherry tomatoes. Serve.


BLT Pasta Bake

Everyone has their own version of comfort food. For some, it’s a dish they grew up eating at their grandma’s house. For others, it’s a quick run through their favorite fast food chain. Either way, we all love to indulge in our own brand of comfort from time to time. Comfort food transports us from the busyness and stress of our day to a place of fond memories, peace and happy thoughts. That’s what pasta does for me. I love a good pasta dish. Although my waistline would not be very forgiving, I could literally eat pasta every single day. I don’t…but I could. I try to include one pasta dish in each week’s meal plan. Some times those dishes are actually on the lighter side, showcasing whole wheat pasta and fresh veggies. Still delicious and still my own brand of comfort. But other times I like to go all out, and that’s what BLT Pasta Bake is all about.

What makes this pasta bake so fun is that the individual ingredients are all awesome in their own right. Leeks? Yes please! Bacon? Obviously. Cream cheese, asiago cheese AND parmesan cheese? Perfection.

If you’re looking for a little bit of comfort today, look no further. BLT Pasta Bake is where it’s at. Enjoy!!

BLTpasta

 

 

Ingredients:

1 lb. package rigatoni
6 slices bacon, chopped
2 leeks, halved lengthwise and sliced
¼ cup dry white wine
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon, crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 3 oz. bricks cream cheese
1 ½ cups asiago cheese
½ cup parmesan cheese
½ pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil

  1. Cook rigatoni according to package directions. RESERVE 1 CUP OF PASTA WATER!!
  2. Heat oven to 500 degrees.
  3. Heat olive oil in a large oven-proof braising pan or skillet. Add bacon and cook until crispy.
  4. Add leek, garlic and red pepper. Cook 2 to 3 minutes. Deglaze pan with white wine, scraping up brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan.
  5. Stir in tomato paste, half of asiago cheese and all of  the cream cheese. Add reserved pasta water and stir until cheese is melted and everything is combined. It will be sticky.
  6. Stir in rigatoni and half of the cherry tomatoes. Top with remaining tomatoes, asiago and parmesan.
  7. Cook in oven for 7 to 8 minutes. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t brown too quickly.
  8. Serve.


Crab Cakes with Sriracha-Mayo

Every summer I look forward to the crab cakes at an awesome restaurant in Grayton Beach, Florida. The Red Bar is an eclectic hole in wall tucked in between magnolia trees and the white sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. While they have a really small menu, they serve by far the most delicious nuggets of crab and filling I’ve ever tasted. They are so delicious in fact, that the restaurant tends to run out of them early in the night…better to be an early bird! Craving my favorite summertime treat, this weeknight dinner was born. These cakes are mostly crab and little filling. I served them alongside a bright arugula salad with heirloom grape tomatoes. Happy August in February!

Crab Cakes

Ingredients:

1 lb. lump crabmeat
1⁄2 red bell pepper, small diced
5 scallions, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄2 lemon, juiced
1⁄2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1⁄4 cup mayonnaise
1 large egg
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon dry ground mustard
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
Dash cayenne pepper
1⁄2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sriracha
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Prepare a large baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine all crab cake ingredients. Mix ingredients with your hands. Shape into small patties and place on the baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook. (Can be made 1 day ahead)
  2. Meanwhile, make your spicy mayo. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir to blend. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. (Can be made 1 day ahead)
  3. When ready to cook crab cakes, drizzle about 1 1/2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-­‐high heat. When oil is hot, carefully place crab cakes, in batches, in pan and fry until browned, 4-­‐5 minutes per side. Carefully flip crab cakes and fry on other side until golden brown, another 4 minutes.
  4. Serve crab cakes with sriracha mayo alongside simple arugula salad.


Brussels Sprouts Pizza

I have been beyond obsessed with brussels sprouts this winter. Ob. Sessed. Luckily for me, my husband has been very supportive of this new addiction and has happily eaten every single one I’ve put in front of him. My son has too. I somehow hit the jackpot in this area. My one-year old has a more distinguished palate than many adults. He “Mmmmmms” and applauds every time he eats. It’s pretty awesome. I pat myself on the back at every meal even though I secretly know it has very little to do with me, and everything to do with the fact that he’s an awesome baby. I digress.

Brussels Sprouts. If you hate them, chances are you haven’t had them prepared correctly. I’ve recently had great success sharing many different preparations with family and friends, and everyone has raved. These pizzas might be my favorite creation to date. Super quick to throw together and yet HUGE on flavor, this would be an easy appetizer for your next get-together. We actually ate a couple of these each for dinner and it was perfect. I hope you’ll try these soon…I promise you won’t regret it!

Brussels Sprouts Pizza

Ingredients:

8 pita breads
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
extra-­‐virgin olive oil
3 medium cloves garlic, cut in half
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
small sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 lb. pound Brussels sprouts, shredded or shaved
1 leek, sliced lengthwise into quarters, then chopped (keep root intact for easy cutting)
1⁄4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
4 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Heat butter over medium-­‐low heat. Add onions and slowly caramelize,

    careful not to burn, until onions are brown but not burnt. Set aside.

  3. Heat olive oil over medium-­‐high heat. Add leeks and Brussels sprouts and

    sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, until softened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  4. Meanwhile, rub each pita bread with the cut side of a garlic clove. Drizzle

    lightly with extra-­‐virgin olive oil and a few crushed red pepper flakes.

  5. Top each pita with some of the caramelized onions and then 1⁄4 cup

    mozzarella cheese. Divide Brussels sprouts mixture evenly over the top of the 8 pitas, approximately 1⁄4 cup of mixture per pita. Add a few crumbles of goat cheese to each and top with the crumbled bacon.

  6. Bake at 425 for 8 to 10 minutes. Serve.


Buffalo Ranch Chicken Lasagna

It’s Super Bowl time! You have the perfect excuse to scroll through your pins on Pinterest and choose a few super unhealthy, extremely decadent dishes to serve to family and friends during the big game. Hooray!! Trust me, I’ve been there and done that. A few years ago when Pinterest first hit the scene I had a Super Bowl spread that you could gain five pounds just looking at. It was intense…and delicious. This year I was thinking about trying to replicate my mother-in-law’s hot wings, but I just can’t bring myself to go through the whole deep-frying ordeal. Such a mess. Then I remembered something I actually saw on Pinterest myself a few days ago- Buffalo Chicken Lasagna.

Interesting.

I read the recipe and it actually sounded pretty good…hot sauce, blue cheese, white cheddar, pasta…what’s not to love? I made some changes and additions and came up with what I think it a pretty amazing combo. I personally love dipping my hot wings in ranch dressing, not blue cheese, so I added some “ranchy” herbs and spices to the sauce to really drive home my favorite hot wing flavors. If you want to mix up your game this year, give this one a shot. It’s a crowd pleaser and it won’t leave your kitchen with a layer of oil coating your appliances and countertops. Or if you must, go for the gold and put all those pins of yours to good use. At least you have a good excuse. 🙂

photo copy

olive oil
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
1 small onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1 large carrot, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
1, 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 , 12 oz. bottle Louisiana brand buffalo wing sauce 1 tablespoon dried parsley
1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄2 teaspoon onion powder
1⁄2 teaspoon dried dill weed
salt and pepper, to taste
no-­‐boil lasagna noodles
15 oz. ricotta cheese
4 oz. blue cheese
1⁄2 cup fresh parsley, minced
1 egg, lightly beaten
12 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
8 oz. white cheddar cheese, shredded

  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrot and cook until softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
  2. Add the can of diced tomatoes, bottle of wing sauce, dried parsley, dried dill, onion powder and garlic powder. Stir in chicken and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low, cooking for 20 minutes or up to an hour.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine beaten egg, ricotta cheese and blue cheese. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Remove lid from Dutch oven and check seasoning. Add salt and pepper if needed.
  5. Begin the lasagna layering process. Spread 1 cup sauce into a greased 13-­‐in. x 9-­‐in. baking dish. Layer with three noodles, 1-­‐1/2 cups sauce, 2/3 cup ricotta mixture, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, 2/3 cup cheddar cheese. Repeat this process 2 more times for a total of three layers.
  6. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees with 20 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake for 20 to 25 minutes more. Remove and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.


Cauliflower and Celery Root Soup

Sometimes it’s really fun to start cooking with just one ingredient in mind and build from there. In keeping with preparing seasonal food, I had in my mind that I wanted to try a cauliflower soup. I recently made a Broccoli Cheese Soup that was to die for…so I wanted to mix it up a little bit and play with some new flavors.

Celery Root is another in-season veggie, and since the base of many soups is already onion, carrot and celery, I figured throwing celery root in instead would be an easy substitution. I also REALLY love leeks in soup. To tell the truth, I love leeks in anything. They are awesome used in place of a regular onion, as they have a more complex onion flavor. I really love their light green color too.

One of my favorite tools in the kitchen is The Flavor Bible. It’s a great way to learn how to pair different ingredients and I use it a lot to double check myself. I used it with this soup to make sure the cheese I wanted to add would work well with the other ingredients and sure enough, perfect match! I ended up going with cauliflower, celery root, leeks, truffle oil and gruyere cheese. Ahhhh-mazing! If you’re looking for something a little less intense, scratch the drizzle of truffle oil and add fresh dill instead. I plan to try that next!

cauliflowersoup

For the soup:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium celery root, peeled, cut in 1 inch cubes
1 medium cauliflower, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 medium leek, quartered and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken stock
2 inch chunk of parmesan cheese
½ cup heavy cream
splash of white wine
salt and pepper, to taste
4 oz. shredded gruyere cheese, for garnish (optional)
white truffle oil, for drizzling

For the crispy kale:

1 bunch kale, tough stems removed and chopped into 2 inch chunks
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leek and sauté until becoming translucent. Add celery root and cauliflower; sauté 3 minutes . Add garlic and sauté 1 minute.  Add splash of wine and simmer until it is mostly absorbed.
  2. Add chicken stock and parmesan cheese chunk. Bring to a boil.
  3. Cover and reduce heat to low to simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, toss kale with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in a 350 degree oven until crisp, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove when kale is crispy, you may have to watch for this.
  5. Carefully transfer in batches to a blender. Purée until smooth. Return soup to pot. Stir in cream, salt, pepper. Add more cream or stock if you need to until you reach desired consistency. Simmer 5 minutes. Taste to adjust seasoning. Serve in bowls with a drizzle of truffle oil and sprinkling of Gruyere. Garnish with a few crispy kale leaves. Serve remaining kale chips alongside soup.

***A variation to the truffle oil would be to stir in about a tablespoon of fresh chopped dill. Where the truffle oil will add richness, the dill would brighten up the soup.***