Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shrimp Pesto Pasta

This is a dinner I made by raiding the pantry and the refrigerator. It was totally unplanned. All I knew early in the day was that dinner would contain shrimp and pasta. The rest of it came together as the meal progressed. I buy big bags of frozen raw shrimp when they are on sale. It's great to have them in the freezer anytime we feel like seafood for dinner. Other things I keep in the pantry, like pesto sauce and evaporated canned milk. In the summer, I can step outside my kitchen door and pick basil if I want pesto. I freeze a good amount of it but  usually run out around January. SO, a jar or 2 of pesto sauce in the pantry is the way to go. Evaporated canned milk is a great shelf stable sub for cream, and it's lower in fat as well. Cherry tomatoes and fresh garlic are always on our weekly shopping list, so we've always got them on hand.

This entire dinner came together in about 30 minutes. The pasta and shrimp both cook up quickly and the sauce goes together in a flash. I've given measurements for 2 hearty portions, but it can easily be doubled. This amount made a plate full for each of us plus a small bowl for lunch then next day. AND my husband said, "Don't scrimp on the shrimp!"

Here's what I came up with, using what I had around:

Shrimp Pesto Pasta
Wish I'd had a fresh basil leaf for garnish!!
Shrimp Pesto Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic
2 servings

16 LARGE shrimp peeled and deveined, tails off
Pesto Sauce and Evaporated Milk
Pantry Staples
4 cloves of garlic peeled and halved
8 cherry tomatoes 
2 T. Classico Pesto Sauce                                                          
3 T. evaporated skim milk (from a can) or equal amount cream
2 T. dry white wine
6 - 8 oz. vermicelli
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Toss the tomatoes and garlic in a little olive oil and put them into a small baking dish. I like to use stoneware for this.
Cherry tomtaoes and garlic for roasting

While the veggies are roasting, place the shrimp in a single layer on a layer or two of paper towels to dry them in preparation for searing. They need to be fairly dry. 

Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil for the pasta.

While the water is heating, preheat a non-stick skillet until it is hot. Add a few drops of olive oil and sear the shrimp off a few at a time, making sure not to crowd them or over cook them. Sprinkle them lightly with kosher salt while they are searing. Cook them 2 - 3 minutes on each side. Remove them to a bowl to add back into the sauce later.
They should be just pink and slightly crispy on the edges as shown above.

In the same pan, add the pesto sauce, the evaporated milk and the white wine. Stir over low heat to combine. Don't let the sauce boil, just simmer gently until warmed through.

Cover it and keep warm until the pasta is cooked to al dente'.   Drain the pasta well, and add it back into the hot pot you cooked it in. Add the tomatoes and garlic and the sauce you made. Toss to combine. Add the shrimp and cover the mixture. Heat on low a few minutes and serve with grated Parmesan.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Keep Christmas For the 12 Days

I love Christmas as I've mentioned before in this blog (see here ) and I like to keep all the traditions alive! Here's a letter to the editor I wrote last year about my feelings, and they were kind enough to name me correspondent of the day.


Check it out and let me know how you celebrate! In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Our beautiful tree in the living room. I've got 2 full sized ones and a couple of smaller ones that I decorate! 

Our dog checking out her gifts under the 3 themed trees in the family room. They all have blown glass ornaments on them. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Classic Quiche Lorraine

There is nothing quite like a  Quiche Lorraine for brunch. Absolutely nothing. Remember the scene in Alfred Hitchcock's classic film, "To Catch a Thief" starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly? When they are eating on the balcony? That's Quiche Lorraine that Cary Grant is eating. If you've never seen that movie, check it out. It's great and the clothes are to die for! I love a good Hitchcock mystery. See if you can figure it out before the end. It's not easy but the answer is there if you look carefully!

In addition to it's cult movie status, my mother absolutely LOVED Quiche Lorraine. When she made it for us in the 70's we thought it was the height of European sophistication. Then, inexplicably, quiche went out of style. People started saying things like, "real men don't eat quiche" and other absurd quotes that simply validated the "ugly American" cliche'. I've got lots of real men around and guess what? They eat quiche. One of them even asks for it on occasion. AND if you've got one of those men who think they don't like it, just call it bacon and egg pie, because that's all it really is.

All that useless stuff being said, here's what we're having on Christmas morning. step by step. It's easy to make and delicious to eat! Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Quiche Lorraine
Serves 6 - 8

1 unbaked pie crust
1 lb. Swiss cheese, grated
5 slices (or rashers) crisply cooked bacon
1/4 c. minced yellow onion
2/3 c. light cream
5 eggs

First, prepare your pie crust. For me that means open the package and unroll it, dust with flour and put it into my pretty pie dish. You can do whatever labor intensive thing you like. Or not. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Next cook some bacon, nice and crispy:

While the bacon is cooking grate the Swiss cheese. I like to use my ancient Mouli Grater but again, if you like to be labor intensive, go with that.

Crumble up the bacon and mince the onion. Sprinkle them evenly over the prepared pie crust in the pan, like this:

I mean, how bad could anything be that starts with pastry, bacon and onion? Now, get going on the custard. Measure 2/3 c. light cream (or milk which works just fine) into a large measuring cup. Add the 5 eggs and whisk to combine. Sprinkle about 1/4 tsp. of fresh grated nutmeg into your custard.

Don't omit the nutmeg, it gives it a little something-something! 
Place the grated cheese into the pie dish, mounding it up slightly in the center. It will look like too much cheese, but it's not. Then, very carefully and gently, pour the custard over the cheese evenly. 
Here it is, ready for the oven. You can't tell, but he cheese is in a kind of a hill in the center. Put the quiche into your preheated oven, and set the timer for 12 minutes. At the end of 12 minutes, turn the oven down to 325 degrees (don't open the door!) and cook for another 30 minutes until the quiche is set in the middle and the crust is lightly browned. I like to garnish it with a piece of bacon so folks know what to expect when they eat it  -- but that's just me. Maybe your guests like surprises! 

AND VOILA! A quiche fit for a king, or Cary Grant.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Spicy Chicken Ziti

Spicy Chicken with Ziti

I keep seeing cooks on the Food Network make Chicken Riggies or Chicken with Rigatoni. Now I am up for almost ANY kind of pasta dish, and hey, chicken, it's a no brainer. So, I went to my local (smaller size) market and believe it or not, they did NOT have any rigatoni! What? I could hardly believe it, but I can roll with it, so I substituted ziti. Not that there is THAT much difference between ziti and rigatoni, but there is a little bit.

This came together pretty quickly once I had chopped everything up. It was rich, spicy, creamy and very satisfying, all at the same time. Makes the cut for a pretty easy weeknight dinner!

I made what I thought would be about right for 2 people, but it actually made 4 servings. Go figure, I've never been very good at "portioning" things out. I am always the one who makes way too much, or tries to transfer leftovers into a container that's either way too small for that amount or overly gigantic for the little bit I've got to store. I can't explain it, but that's just me. I feel like this is pretty family friendly, but to get my "kids" to eat it, I'd have to leave out the mushrooms! Maybe sub some roasted red peppers? That would probably work. Start out with 1/2 tsp. of the red pepper flakes if you are not sure how much spice you want. I used 1 tsp. in ours. Don't omit the thyme, it pairs so very well with the chicken and mushrooms, and adds a nice earthy taste. The  thyme in my garden is extremely hardy so I have it available all year round. Even if I've got to brush some snow of it, I can find some green underneath! If you don't grow thyme, give it a try, it's super easy -- at least it is here in Central VA! It also smells really good when you are working in your garden, an added bonus.

Here's what I came up with:

Spicy Chicken with Ziti

3 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
1 T. olive oil
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/3 c. diced yellow onion
4 oz. crimini mushrooms, halved (baby portobello)
1/4 c. Madeira wine or Dry Sherry
2 heaping T. tomato paste
1 tsp. fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 - 1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes (or more if you really  like spicy)
1/2 c. low sodium chicken broth
1/3 c. light cream
1 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

8 oz. ziti cooked al dente
Grated Parmesan cheese for topping

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat and add chicken thighs. Sear them on all sides until lightly browned. Remove to a bowl. In the same pan, add onion and cook for  few minutes until they begin to soften. Add garlic and mushrooms to the pan, and continue to cook about 5 more minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine or sherry, then add the chicken broth and thyme. Stir in the tomato paste and red pepper flakes. Bring this to a boil, and put the chicken back into the pan. Add the salt and a little pepper, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Add the cooked ziti and the cream and toss the whole dish together. Cover and let it sit 5 minutes. Serve in a shallow bowl sprinkled with Parmesan. Serves 4.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Delicious Holiday Treat: Spiced Nuts

Let me start out by saying that I take absolutely NO credit for this recipe. It comes from one of my favorite authors, Deborah Harkness. Deborah is not only a great author, but a kind and generous person who interacts with her readers and shares her many inspirations, like music and food and art and so much more. Check her out HERE . She's also a woman after my own heart as she loves to cook and is a wine blogger! If you haven't read her All Souls Trilogy you are missing a real treat -- it's like Harry Potter for grown ups with a scholarly dose of history thrown into the mix.

So, here's what I've been making -- Spiced Nuts or "Em's Vampire Nuts" as they are referenced in the books. This is the 3rd year I've made them, and they are delicious. They make a great gift, aren't too labor intensive and have the distinction of having several good ways to serve them. You can, of course, eat them on their own as a snack, but I LOVE them on top of a salad. Get a fancy blend of lettuce that includes arugula (or rocket as they call it across the pond). Top it with some goat cheese, and either pomegranate seeds or craisins, drizzle with a balsamic vinaigrette and place a few of these nuts, pride of place, right on top. I bet they'd be great on top of a shortbread cookie as well, like pecan sandies for grownups.  Heaven! Fancy without being fussy, special without being pretentious! Give this a try, you'll thank me (and Deborah Harkness)!

Spiced Nuts

1 lb halved nuts ( I like walnuts or pecans or a mixture of the two, You can also use almonds but don't use cashews -- they burn too quickly.)
2 1/2 vegetable or canola oil (don't use olive oil)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 tsp. cardamon
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, boil 3 inches of water and add the nuts. Blanch them for 1 minute and drain well. When they are drained, put them while still hot into a bowl with the vanilla and oil. Sprinkle with the sugar. Stir well to coat the nuts and then let them sit for 10 minutes. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees while you are waiting. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a large baking sheet with a rim. Bake the nuts for about 30 minutes, stirring and turning them every 7 - 10 minutes. Watch them carefully -- they can go from brown to burned quickly! In between stirring, mix the salt, cardamon, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a cup. When the nuts  are finished baking, put them into a big bowl and sprinkle with the spices. Stir, stir and stir them until all the spices are evenly distributed. Cool them in a single layer on some parchment or waxed paper. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks in a cool dry place (not the refrigerator). Enjoy!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Simple Chicken Dinner

I think that some of you may think I spend hours in the kitchen every day, slaving away over a hot stove, concocting complicated dishes. In reality, that is far from the truth. Even though our kids are grown now, I am still working and have a couple of part time jobs. I also love to garden and read, and have a weird TV obsession with "Law and Order". Don't ask, I know it's weird.

Some days, I just want in and out of the kitchen in no time flat, however, because I am a pretty good cook, expectations are high when it comes to dinner time. One of my very favorite short cut, "I don't have time for this" dinners is a go to that I am sure many of you use: Boneless, skinless frozen chicken breasts. They are great to have in the freezer, and we always keep them on hand. I buy them in huge bags at our big box store, and take out as many as I need for dinner. The only drawback that I can see to them, is that their size is often a little inconsistent. If you pull out 4, two of them may be huge and 2 may be on the smaller side. Other than that little issue, they are just what a busy woman needs. One of the easiest ways is simply to marinate them in Wishbone Lite Italian dressing and grill them, about 4 minutes on each side usually does the trick. You don't want to over cook them or they start to resemble rubber bands. And taste like them too. And YES, Wishbone is the dressing of choice for this meal at my house.

That's the taste we like when I am in a hurry. It only takes about 15 minutes in the marinade once they are thawed -- and they thaw very quickly -- to make a difference in the taste. 

As far as side dishes go, my hub could eat a baked potato EVERY. DAY.OF. HIS. LIFE. Me, not so much. I like a good baked potato as much as anyone, especially with a rare steak ( See how I make them here.) but once a week is plenty for me. My go to , in a hurry side dish is what my family calls "Meemaw Noodles". We call them that because my Mom loved them. And since today should have been her 82nd birthday, here's the secret of "Meemaw Noodles".  This makes about 4 servings. Cook  about 10 oz. of egg noodles according to the directions on the bag. Drain them well. Put 1 T. butter into the hot pot while the noodles are draining When the butter is melted, put the noodles. back into the pot. Stir them to coat with the butter. Add 1 tablespoon lite Daisy Sour Cream and stir again. Sprinkle with 2  tablespoons Kraft Grated Parmesan Cheese. Yes, the kind in the green can, I officially give you my permission to use the green can when making this dish. That's how my mom did it and that's how I do it. 

Sprinkle the noodles lightly with salt, add a generous amount to pepper and stir it all together. Put the lid on, let them sit a few minutes to heat through. Serve with the grilled chicken. I usually put the water on to boil, start the grill., add the noodles, and grill the chicken kind of all at the same time. Add any vegetable or salad stuff you've got and call it dinner.  The dinner picture shown has some of my leftover ratatouille on the side (recipe here). 

So now  you know. I am just as time crunched as many women, and sometimes I am pretty lazy in the kitchen. I feel so much better now that I've confessed! Try this and don't feel guilty. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Perfect Fall Brunch: Breakfast Pizza and Fried Apples

Breakfast Pizza with Fried Apples
The weather has turned decidedly cooler this weekend here in Central VA. I've had apples on my mind -- sweet, tart, crispy apples. Yesterday for lunch I made a fruit salad filled with apples, red grapes, pineapple and orange slices. This morning, I made Fried Apples to go along with our Breakfast Pizza Casserole. They were a favorite of my mom, and something she made many weekend mornings.

This Breakfast Pizza is a long time family favorite, and while it is really, really kid friendly, adults like it too. It goes together quickly and will feed 8 easily. You could definitely add some veggies if you've got ambitious eaters or all adults -- roasted red peppers, onions, mushrooms, a little spinach -- all of those would be good, I'm sure.

This is the way I made it when my kids were younger. I've cut way back on the fat in the original recipe simply by making smarter purchases. Instead of regular Jimmy Dean pork sausage, I bought the lower fat version. And when they say "low fat" they mean it! There was barely ANY grease in the pan when I fried it up to use in the casserole, as you can see in this picture:
I have to say that it tasted great in the casserole... I didn't miss the grease at all! I also purchased Low Fat Crescent Rolls instead of the original. You absolutely can NOT tell the difference!
Pillsbury Reduced Fat Crescent Rolls
The next time you need something for more than 2 people to make for brunch, try this. Whether it's a special occasion, or you just want to make it special, this is a great way to go. It's really prefect on a cool fall morning. Your family and friends will eat it up!

Breakfast Pizza
serves 6 - 8

1 pkg. Pillsbury Reduced Fat Crescent Rolls (8 count)
6 eggs
1/3 c. low-fat milk (I used 1%)
1 roll Jimmy Dean reduced fat sausage, regular flavor, 10 oz.
1 1/2 c. part skim shredded mozzarella cheese
pinch of salt and pepper
a few chives for serving
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. In a large non-stick skillet, cook your sausage, breaking it up into small pieces. Cook it until completely done, with no pink showing. Remove the sausage to a small bowl and wipe any excess grease from the pan. Set aside to use for the apples. Spray a 9X13" Pyrex casserole dish with cooking spray. Unroll the crescent rolls in one piece and fit them into the bottom of the dish, pressing the seams together, like this:
Unroll the crescent rolls in one piece for the crust.
Layer the cooked sausage over the crust and sprinkle with the cheese:
Crumble the sausage on top of the rolls  
Add cheese on top of the sausage.

Beat the eggs together with the milk and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the pizza. Cook at 375 degrees for 20 minutes until lightly browned and "set" in the middle. Sprinkle with chives if desired, because after all, it's got to look pretty too! We eat with our eyes first, right? 
Breakfast Pizza
While the pizza is cooking, prepare your apples.

Fried Apples

5-6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 T. Land o' Lakes Butter
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Melt the butter (medium heat) in the same pan you cooked the sausage. Add the apples, making sure they have good contact with the pan, so that they begin to brown slightly. After a few minutes, stir them gently, with a spatula, and turn them over so that both sides of each slice gets cooked. Sprinkle the apples with the sugar and continue to cook for about 5 minutes and then add the cinnamon. Be sure not to over-do the cinnamon. You want them to be lightly sweetened with just a touch of cinnamon. 
Sprinkle them lightly with cinnamon.

Continue to stir the apples until they begin to soften and release their juices. When you are there, cover the pan, and cook for 3 more minutes. Don't want to cook them to mush, you want them to retain their shape and texture. Turn them off and hold them until brunch is ready to be served. 

Fried Apples. There are 5 fairly large Granny Smith apples in the skillet.
They cook down a bit. You can add them gradually as you cook them so they don't fly all over the kitchen! 
Bon Appetit!